The Urumqi fire had nothing to do with China’s 0-COVID policy
Written By: Vito. Published: 03/12/2022
On the 24th of November 2022, 10 people tragically were killed and 9 people were injured in a fire at a highrise residential building in Jixiangyuan community, Urumqi, Xinjiang. As news began to travel around Weibo and Douyin in China Videos of the building set ablaze went viral. The fire was due to a faulty circuit leak. The emergency fire services arrived on the scene and attempted to douse the flame with a water cannon which failed because of the location of the fire and other buildings between them & the fire.
The Urumqi Party Committee and the Mayor of Urumqi Memtimin Qadir have expressed sorrow for the families of the people who have not made it out of the fire. The western media and “activists” have caught on and immediately pin the deaths onto China’s Zero-COVID policies, accusing China of soldering and locking the doors that unable to escape. While disastrous as it is portrayed by the west, they have ignored the actual situation of what happened there. This piece will cover the statements from witnesses, the local Urumqi government officials as well as firefighters on the ground and debunk the misinformation.
In the recent interview by Xinjiang Daily (with translation), the interviewer asked 4 questions regarding the incident.
How did the fire start?
Around 7 pm, Buayi Xianmu Maimaiti Aili, a resident living on the 15th Floor of Unit 2 Building 8, was been taking a bath when the circuit conductor shorted. She quickly turned off and back on the circuit switch again and continued with her steam bath. Around that time, Buayi’s daughter smelt a strong burnt smoke from her bedroom, she notice that a socket was on fire and hurried to warn her mother of the flames, which by now items on the bed and wood-made dado and ceiling had already been swallowed by fire’s breath. Buayi tried putting out the fire with jugs or water but to no avail (Editor: NEVER PUT WATER ON AN ELECTRICAL FIRE). She quickly grabbed her daughter and ran straight for the apartment door to ask for help. She spoke to Deng Mingxing, a community worker who was just outside her door, he instructed Buayi and her daughter to go down to the bottom of the building and call fire emergency number 119. By now the smoke is billowing above the 15th floor.
In the meantime, 3 community members went to the 14th Floor to rally people to go back up to the 15th Floor above and to attempt to stop the fire but they were also unsuccessful as the fire was now out of their level of control. All of them returned back down to the door of the 1st Floor, by now flammable materials were falling from the inferno above. Under the guidance of a rescue team, they enter a household on the 1st floor, crossed over a window, and safely arrived outside the danger zone.
Is the Jixiangyuan community low risk for COVID prevention?
According to Party Branch Secretary Azigul Kerim who is responsible for the Jixiangyuan Community as whole says it was designated as a low-risk area for COVID prevention on November 12th. The evaluation from the Anti-Pandemic Work Control Center in the Tianshan area decided that residences from the area are allowed to go down outside of the building during lockdown to walk pets, or exersize, etc.
According to Munire Ahemati, a residence from 16 Floor Unit 1 “I went downstairs and had a stroll during the 23rd and the 24th, in the community I saw adults were exercising as well as kids are having fun”
When the fire happened, were the doors from the building units soldered and sealed up?
According to resident Munire Ahemati, When the fire started she could smell the smoke and when she opened the door to her residency she discovered that the entire hallway is already filled with thick black smoke.
Ms Ahemati immediately closed and locked the door, and sent messages to the community around her building using WeChat to report the emergency and ask for help. She messaged to say she was already having symptoms of hypoxia at home (The message has been recorded and published on the web). A community worker who was close to her appartment saw her messaging and rushed to assist her.
Ms Ahemati said that “Even wearing 3 layers of masks didnt stop us from having to breath in the smoke”. Firefighters on the scene also came to her aid and told her not to go out of her residency, as the carbon monoxide levels in the hallway were at a dangerous level due to the toxic smoke and instead encouraged to wait until aid arrives.
The firefighters arrived in around 5-6 minutes and rescued families from their apartments and took them to safety outside the building.
Buayi Xianmu has stated that on November 23th, the day before the incident, the door from her building has been always been unlocked, and there is no indication that the door has ever been soldered, locked or chain up.
Are the Ground-pile foundation construction works and fence meant for COVID prevention?
According to electrician Ali Zuli from the Jixiangyuan community, in order for cars to easily gain access to the entrance gate an tempory elevated fence has been set up at the roadside while ground pile foundations are built due to soft soil. A pedestrian walkway is also under construction. Zuli also stated “The elevated fence and ground piles are frequently used equipment, it is meant to allow people to safely pass by the road as well as allowing vehicles to safely drive by without any accidental issues and not for COVID prevention.”
The Vice Captain of the Urumqi City Fire Ambulance Team, Yu Baoyung stated that after the firetruck arrived, it needed to take a right turn off the road to arrive at building 8 when the fire was raging there, while at the same time the workers needed to take down part of the fence for pedestrian walkway and the elevated railing, The workers also needed to move a pile of hardcore out of the road in order for firecrews to reach the site to be able to tackle the fire.
Shortly after the incident occurred, the mayor of the Urumqi Municipal People’s Government, the Mayor of the Tianshan District People’s Government, and the commander of the Municipal Fire Department released a joint statement.
The mayor of Urumqi Municipal People’s Government, Memtimin Qadir:
Greetings to the general public, at about 19:49 on November 24, a fire broke out in a high-rise residential building in Jixiangyuan Community, Tianshan District, our city, causing casualties. We are deeply saddened that this happened. Here, on behalf of the Urumqi Municipal Party Committee and the Municipal People’s Government, I express my deep condolences to the victims, my sincere sorrows to the families of the victims, the injured and their relatives, and my apologies to the people of the city. After the fire broke out, the comrades from the Party Committee, the People’s Government of the Autonomous Region, the Municipal Party Committee and the Municipal Government rushed to the scene to direct and organized all forces to go all out fire fighting, search and rescue of people who are trapped, treatment of the wounded, evacuation of the masses, comfort of family members, etc. At about 22:35, the open fire was extinguished; the injured were quickly sent to the hospital, and a medical expert rescue team was organized to go all out for treatment. 10 people died after the rescue, and 9 people suffered from moderate inhalational lung injury. At present, their vital signs are stable. Life is in danger; the relevant people were urgently transferred to 3 hotels and properly resettled. After on-site inspection and inquiries to the parties concerned, the building where the fire broke out was a high-rise residential building, and the location of the fire was on the 15th floor of Unit 2. It was initially determined that the fire was caused by a faulty electrical line. The fire source ignited the indoor items, the fire spread to the 17th floor, and the smoke spread to the 21st floor. At present, we are mobilizing resources from all parties to comprehensively do a good job in the comfort, assistance, and relief work of the families of the victims, the wounded, and their families, strengthen psychological counseling, maximize the dignity of the dead, comfort the families, and protect the masses. The autonomous region and Urumqi City have set up a joint investigation team, and are conducting an in-depth investigation into the cause and responsibility of the fire. Those involved in dereliction of duty will be held accountable in accordance with laws and regulations, and no tolerance will be given. The lessons of this fire are very profound. We will adhere to the problem-oriented approach, draw inferences about other cases from one instance, thoroughly study and implement General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important expositions on fire protection and safety, build a strong sense of public safety, always adhere to the will of the people and the will of life, and follow the epidemic prevention and economic requirements The requirements for stability and development must be safe, and the deployment requirements of the party committee and government of the autonomous region are implemented. Electricity, fire, and gas consumption in various risks, especially fire hazards, are comprehensively investigated and rectified, and efforts are made to ensure the safety of people’s lives and their property.”
Mr. Hamiti Maimaiti Yiming, Mayor of Tianshan District, has reported on the specific situation of the “11.24” fire and further directives after the incident.
“Last night, a major fire broke out in a high-rise residence in Jixiangyuan Community, Erdaoqiao Street, our district, resulting in the loss of 10 people’s lives, and 9 people’s physical conditions were injured to varying degrees, the current vital signs are stable, no life-threatening. The fire caused great losses to the lives and properties of the people and brought heavy grief and sorrow to the families concerned. We are very sad, extremely remorseful, deeply guilty, and uneasy. Jixiangyuan Community is located at No. 613, Jinyin Road, Tianshan District. The building involved is a high-rise residential building at No. 8, with a total of 156 households on 21 floors. After the fire broke out, responsible comrades of the Tianshan District Party Committee and the District Government rushed to the scene as soon as possible and fully cooperated with firefighting, first aid, emergency, and other departments to carry out on-site rescue, and personnel evacuation. Quickly send the injured to the People’s Hospital of the Autonomous Region and the Municipal Friendship Hospital, make a clear diagnosis for each wounded, determine the diagnosis and treatment plan, organize the strongest medical resources to carry out treatment, and save the lives of the injured to the greatest extent. Organize all forces in the region to do a good job of evacuating and resettling the families of the casualties, comfort and assistance, psychological counseling, and other aftermath work, so as to minimize the pain of the masses. Our district has set up a leading group for the aftermath disposal of the masses headed by the responsible comrades of the district party committee and the district government. It has seven working groups including medical treatment, mass resettlement, assessment and repair, hidden danger investigation, publicity and guidance, and emergency material guarantee. work and mobilize all forces to solve the difficult demands raised by the relevant masses. At present, 514 people have been evacuated and resettled to 3 hotels in the jurisdiction, fully equipped with living materials, and do their best to provide service guarantees. People with undamaged houses will be arranged to go home in batches and in an orderly manner from tomorrow; repairs will be carried out immediately to ensure that the people live through the winter smoothly. Regarding the issue of whether there is a three-day silence in the community and whether the escape routes of the residential buildings involved are tied up with iron wires. After repeated verification with the street, the community where Jixiangyuan Community is located, and on-site fire rescue personnel, there is no problem of wire binding in the community, and all the doors of the residents and units in the building are not closed. The pictures of floor doors bound with iron wires posted on the Internet are embezzled and maliciously spliced. Netizens questioning the Jixiangyuan community as “low risk, you can go downstairs for activities”. In accordance with the “New Coronavirus Pneumonia Prevention and Control Plan (Ninth Edition)” and the relevant regulations of the state and autonomous regions on epidemic prevention and control, after comprehensive research and evaluation, starting from November 12, 2022, Jixiangyuan Community will be reduced from a high-risk area to a low-risk area. Subsequently, according to the “Work Plan on Orderly Restoring the Living Order of Residents in Low-Risk Areas”, the District Epidemic Prevention and Control Headquarters conducted a comprehensive review of the prevention and control team, basic ledger, nucleic acid testing of all staff, and public health environment improvement in Jixiangyuan Community. After the evaluation, since November 20, the residents of Jixiangyuan Community have implemented peak-staggered orderly exits and downstairs, and activities in the community. The fire in Jixiangyuan Community has brought us a heavy lesson. In the next step, we will resolutely implement the deployment requirements of the Party Committee of the Autonomous Region and the Municipal Party Committee, and continue to do our best to treat the wounded, rescue the masses, and deal with the aftermath, so as to minimize the losses of the masses. At the same time, learn from the pain, deeply reflect, comprehensively investigate and rectify various hidden risks, effectively strengthen fire protection and production safety, and do our best to protect the safety of people’s lives and property!
Mr. Li Wensheng, Commander of the Municipal Fire Department
“At 19:49 on November 24, the command center of the Fire Rescue Detachment in Urumqi, Xinjiang received an alarm. A fire broke out in Room 1502, Unit 2, Building 8, Jixiangyuan, Jinyin Road, Fulu Road, Tianshan District, Urumqi City. After receiving the alarm, Urumqi City Fire Department The rescue detachment mobilized 7 fire rescue stations and a heavy machinery rescue brigade. A total of 23 fire trucks and 109 commanders and fighters rushed to the scene for disposal. A total of 514 residents were evacuated and 21 trapped people were rescued in this fire. The fire caused 10 deaths and 9 injuries. The fire has the characteristics of a large fire load, fast spread, many trapped people, and difficult evacuation and searches and rescue. At 19:54, 3 vehicles and 15 people from the Heping Road Fire Station in the jurisdiction arrived at the scene. Through external observation, it was found that the fire had broken through the outer window and rolled upwards. According to the situation at the scene, the commander divided the firefighters into two firefighting teams and one search and rescue team. They climbed the stairs to reach the lower floor of the fire floor (the elevator has been powered off and cannot be used). After an on-site investigation, the door of Room 1502 on the fire floor was open. Filled with thick smoke, the flames rolled violently outward. Fire rescue personnel immediately went deep into the building, searched for trapped persons along the stairs to the upper floor of the fire floor, and deployed water belts along the stairs to the lower fire floor to extinguish the fire floor and report the situation to the command center. On the same day, the full attendance headquarters dispatched Tuanjie Road, Xinhua North Road, Hetian Street, Special Service Station 1, Special Service Station 2, Lianhu Road Fire Station, and Heavy Machinery Engineering Rescue Brigade to the scene for reinforcements. At 20:32, the full attendance headquarters of the detachment arrived at the scene. Organize the search and rescue teams of Heping Road and Xinhua North Road fire stations to continue searching the upper floors of the fire floor, and the fire extinguishing team to continue to suppress the fire on the 15th floor and deploy forces to protect the 16th floor. At 21:40, the full attendance command arrived at the scene and immediately ordered the Urumqi fire department to plan out the squads of firefighters. First, concentrate and unify on the positions on the 16th and 17th floors to control the fire; the second is to evacuate all community workers and the remaining people who are trapped inside the building; the third is to organize all the rescue teams participating in the war to carry out re-investigation and search and rescue of the fire unit from top to bottom, floor by floor, and house by house. The entrance and exit roads of the community are narrow, and there are few parking spaces. There are a large number of private cars parked on both sides of the road, and it is difficult for large fire trucks to enter the community to carry out operations. While carrying out search and rescue and fire fighting in the building, relevant departments were organized to relocate the private driveway in front of the building, demolish the daily ground piles, and fully open the fire fighting operations on the north and south sides of the building. At 22:35, the open fire at the scene was extinguished. After repeated investigations and verifications on the spot, all personnel in the unit have been evacuated and rescued. Based on the on-site investigation and the statements of the parties, it was determined that the fire started in the southeast corner of the bedroom on the east side of Room 1502. The cause of the fire was preliminarily determined to be a fire on the plug board in the family bedroom. The specific cause is still under investigation. The fire caused heavy casualties and we learned a lot: First, the laying and installation of electrical wiring in residents’ homes did not comply with fire safety management regulations, burying fire hazards. The second is that the normally closed fire doors on the floor where the fire broke out were not kept closed, causing the fire to spread rapidly and expand. The third is that the roads in the burning community are narrow, and private cars are parked chaotically, which affects the rapid arrival of fire engines to deal with them. Fourth, some residents are weak in self-defense and self-rescue ability. They are not familiar with the location of the second safety exit leading to the roof of the residential building. Here, I would like to remind everyone that when a fire breaks out in a high-rise building, if the fire has spread and expanded, and high-temperature and toxic smoke enter the stairwell, the trapped people must not escape through the evacuation stairs. In this case, the trapped person should be calm, use soaked towels and sheets to block the door gap to prevent toxic fumes from entering the room, and call the police immediately, inform the exact location, and wait for the firefighters to rescue them.”
What is relevant to Urumqi and the effects of Zero COVID on people who are at a disadvantage economically is that 6 days after the incident, Li Yanmei, deputy secretary-general of the Urumqi Municipal People’s Government, said at the press conference that Urumqi City has planned three policies and measures on how to ensure the basic livelihood of the poor people:
The first is to implement social assistance as a basic guarantee for people with low income and no income and other difficulties in life. According to the standard of 300 yuan per person, one-time living assistance will be given.
Second, families renting public rental housing in Urumqi will be exempted from rent for five months for those who have not paid the rent and whose contract has not yet expired; for those who have paid the rent but whose contract has not expired, the lease period will be extended by five months; For guaranteed families whose contracts have expired, if they meet the conditions for lease renewal, when signing a new lease contract, five months’ rent will be reduced or exempted when collecting rent.
The third is to provide a number of public welfare jobs for low-income groups with difficulty in employment. Those who have relevant employment needs can apply to their communities, and Urumqi will make timely and proper arrangements.
- Xinjiang Daily 新疆日报 – 乌鲁木齐市“11·24”火灾四问
- Xinjiang Daily 新疆日报 – 乌鲁木齐市“11·24”火灾事故新闻发布会实录