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Fire ravages ancient Tibetan town in China's 'Shangri-La'

Story highlights

  • Ancient town popular with tourists ravaged by fire
  • Two-thirds of town was destroyed, but no casualties were reported
  • The town, Dukezong, is known for its well-preserved Tibetan dwellings
  • Fire has also sparked concerns over commercial development in ancient towns

Most of a 1,300-year-old Tibetan town popular with tourists was destroyed by a fire over the weekend, renewing concerns over commercial development at Chinese heritage sites.

The blaze, which raged for 10 hours on Saturday, destroyed at least 240 houses or two thirds of the ancient settlement of Dukezong in Yunnan province, southwest China, according to Xinhua state news agency.

The town was known for its well-preserved Tibetan dwellings and the fire spread easily from one wooden house to the other after starting in a small hotel.

Some 2,600 residents were evacuated from the scene, but no casualties were reported, Xinhua added.

The possibility of arson has been ruled out, and the cause of fire is still under investigation, local authorities said.

Dukezong before the fire.
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More than 1,000 firefighters and volunteers battled the flames, officials said, but the narrow streets made it difficult for fire trucks to maneuver.

Fire fighters also found that hydrants were empty due to a shutdown in water supply during sub-zero winter conditions, according to Chen Tianchang, head of the fire service for the Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the region where the town is located.

The town forms part of a county now called Shangri-La, which with its dramatic scenery claims to have inspired the fictional paradise described in the 1933 novel by British author James Hilton.

The fire also renewed concerns over commercial development in China's ancient towns, which have witnessed growing numbers of tourists in recent years. There have been a string of fires at heritage sites in recent months, Xinhua reported.

In October, a blaze tore down an ancient building complex in Hongjiang, central China and a covered bridge in the Western city of Chongqing was destroyed by fire in November. Another fire also raged in the old town of Lijiang, Yunnan in March.

Li Gang, director of the region's cultural relics protection department, told Xinhua that the traditional gaps between the wood buildings in Dukezong to prevent fires had been filled in by restaurants, shops and guesthouses as "tourism booms."

"We have to reconsider the traditional principle of architecture while enhancing fire extinguishing facilities," Li said.