A building fire killed five people and injured eight in one of Beijing’s migrant neighborhoods Wednesday, just weeks after local authorities began mass evictions in response to another deadly blaze.
Beijing mayor Cai Qi visited the injured in the hospital and visited the fire scene, the official Xinhua news agency said, adding that police had detained the building’s owner.
The visit by the mayor – a rising political star – underscored government concern about the unfolding public relations disaster that has followed the city’s brutal response to last month’s dormitory fire.
City officials began tearing down unsafe buildings in late November after a fire that killed 19, driving residents out into the winter cold with little notice in the name of fire safety, a move that has provoked public outroar.
Wednesday’s blaze started at around 1:18 a.m. when two electric bicycles caught fire, Xinhua said, citing the fire department. The house was “self-built for rental,” Xinhua said.
The vehicles are a popular means of transportation for the many migrant workers who have flooded into the capital city from around the country in search of work.
Dozens of police and onlookers gathered behind yellow tape sealing off the scene, watching fire inspectors and local government officials go about their work.
The neighborhood is a collection of crude homes that have sprung up across the street from a massive wholesale market specialising in home fixtures, such as doors and lamps, an area well-known to the city’s many itinerant construction workers.
In recent weeks, authorities have torn most of the buildings to the ground.
Furniture, clothes and even food littered the piles of rubble surrounding the fire scene, evidence that former residents were driven out by authorities without time to collect their belongings.
Fire safety is a major problem in the city’s cheap migrant housing, which often features jerry-rigged electrical wiring and no easy way to flee a blaze.
But the brutal efficiency of the demolitions and mass evictions has provoked an unusual public outcry that has put officials on edge.