Beijing cafe fire kills 24
BEIJING, China -- A fire at an Internet cafe in a Beijing suburb killed 24 people early Sunday, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The cafe -- called Lanjisu -- is located in Haidian, a northern Beijing suburb frequented by students attending the area's many universities. Another 13 people were injured in the fire, which started about 2:30 a.m., Xinhua reported.
Firefighters were able to put out the blaze in about an hour. An investigation into the cause of the fire was under way, officials told Xinhua.
A witness said iron window bars trapped victims inside.
The fire was put out within 45 minutes, Associated Press quoted an unnamed official as saying
He said the cause was under investigation.
Haidian, in Beijing's northwest, is the site of Beijing University and Tsinghua University, two of China's most prestigious schools. The area has a large student population and is the center of China's growing computer and high-technology industries.
A neighbor said he was awakened by screams and saw smoke pouring from windows of the cafe, on the second floor of a two-story cement building. Neighbors helped one person escape, but iron bars over the windows prevented others from getting out, he said.
"There were people shouting 'Help me, help me,"' said the man, who gave only his surname, Liu.
Neighbors later pried the bars off one window and pulled out several victims who appeared to be dead, Liu said. He said firefighters took only five minutes to extinguish the fire, which seemed to be at its strongest near the front of the cafe.
Liu said the cafe had operated 24 hours a day and drew large numbers of students by offering cheaper Internet access rates late at night. Liu and other witnesses said the cafe had room for more than 40 customers.
On Sunday morning, the area had been cordoned off and police could be seen inside filming and turning over debris. Burn marks ringed shattered windows and a striped blanket hung from one window.
Fatal fires are common in China, where operators of bars, movie theaters, Internet cafes and other businesses often ignore safety rules or fail to provide emergency exits. But they are less frequent in Beijing, the capital, where regulations are more rigorously enforced.
Internet cafes, many open 24 hours, are immensely popular in China, which says it has 33.7 million Internet users but where many families can't afford to buy a computer. The biggest cafes, especially near universities, have hundreds of terminals.
In December 2000, a fire at a discotheque in the central city of Luoyang killed 309 people. Investigators blamed the high death toll on locked emergency exits. Twenty-three people held responsible were sentenced to prison terms of up to 13 years.
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