BEIJING (Reuters) - A fire in a southern neighbourhood of Beijing early on Wednesday killed five people, the Chinese government said, just weeks after another deadly blaze in the city prompted a crackdown against migrant workers sparking widespread anger.
The fire in a house in Baiqiangzi, a migrant village in the Chinese capital, was caused by two electric bikes, a fireman who gave his family name as Qiu told Reuters at the scene.
Eight people were injured and had been taken to hospital, the government said.
Police detained the house owner who had rented it out, state news agency Xinhua said.
A resident in his 30s, who declined to be identified, said he was in the building when the fire broke out just before 1 a.m. (1700 GMT Tuesday).
He said that the room where electric bikes are charged was full of flames. He helped carry people out, some of whom were burnt “from head to toe”, he said.
“It was terrifying but I had to help,” he told Reuters.
Fireman Qiu said the cause was still being investigated.
“The fire itself was not very big but the plastic material on the outside of the ebikes created lots of poisonous smoke that led to deaths,” Qiu said.
Beijing’s municipal government launched a 40-day “special operation” targeting fire code and building safety violations last month after a Nov. 18 apartment fire in another southern part of the city killed 19 people, almost all of them migrants.
The city-wide fire safety blitz has forced thousands of migrant workers out of their homes and businesses, igniting unusually direct criticism of city government measures seen by some people as unfairly targeting the vulnerable underclass.
Beijing’s Communist Party chief Cai Qi has visited migrant workers in an apparent effort to address those concerns, telling them the city cannot do without their hard work, the official Beijing Daily said on Wednesday.
“Our city needs sanitation, cleaning, security, logistics, housekeeping, courier, catering and other ordinary workers,” the paper quoted Cai as saying. “Whether in city operations or normal daily life, we can’t do without them.”
Companies in all sectors in Beijing rely on migrant workers and they have used their sweat to contribute to the city’s development, Cai said.
“We need to give these workers full respect and show even more care and love for them, work hard to address their hardships and anxieties, to give them a sense of belonging,” he said.
Xinhua said Cai had visited the site of the latest fire and also been to see the survivors in hospital.
The government has come under increasing pressure in the wake of the crackdown on migrant workers, including sporadic protests and an open letter from more than 100 prominent academics, lawyers and intellectuals denouncing the steps.
Such open criticism of government is increasingly rare as officials have clamped down on various aspects of civil society under President Xi Jinping.
Some non-profit groups that sought to offer assistance said they had been obstructed by police, with their online advertisements blocked by censors.
Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry and Paul Tait