2022 Ürümqi fire

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2022 Ürümqi fire
西南交通大学学生悼念乌鲁木齐火灾逝者 10.jpg
Students of Southwest Jiaotong University mourn the victims of the Ürümqi fire
Date24 November 2022 (2022-11-24)
LocationÜrümqi, Xinjiang, China
Coordinates43°46′49″N 87°37′08″E / 43.78028°N 87.61889°E / 43.78028; 87.61889Coordinates: 43°46′49″N 87°37′08″E / 43.78028°N 87.61889°E / 43.78028; 87.61889
CauseSparks from an electric socket on a power strip
Deaths10[1][2][3]
Non-fatal injuries9

On 24 November 2022, a fire broke out in a residential high-rise apartment building in a Uyghur-majority neighborhood in Ürümqi, Xinjiang, China. Local authorities reported ten Uyghurs were dead and an additional nine were injured,[4][1][2][3] though some raised concerns of underreporting.[5][6] Journalists raised questions of whether China's strict enforcement of the zero-COVID policy prevented residents from leaving the building or interfered with the efforts of firefighters.[1] Chinese authorities have denied these claims.[7] The fire has been called a trigger of protests in several cities across China and in several other countries targeting the Chinese government's zero-COVID policy, but in several instances also called for an end to Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s one-party rule and for general secretary Xi Jinping to step down.[7][8]

Background[edit]

Ürümqi is the capital city of Xinjiang, home to the Uyghur population. Since August 2022, COVID-19 has spread to many parts of Xinjiang, and the local government had formulated several epidemic prevention policies in response, such as lockdowns and mandatory testing. Before the fire, the Jixiangyuan community (Chinese: 吉祥苑社区) where the accident occurred was designated a "low-risk area", and residents could leave for one to two hours each day while having to stay at home for the remainder of the day. It was unclear whether people were allowed to leave their compounds.[9]

Fire[edit]

On 24 November 2022, at around 7:49 p.m. (11:49 a.m. GMT)[10] a fire broke out on the 15th floor of a 21-storey apartment building known as Jixiangyuan community building 8, unit 2, room 1502.[11]

An investigation discovered that resident Ayshem Memeteli (Chinese: 阿依仙木·買買提艾力) was steam showering in the bathroom, which tripped the circuit breaker. After Ayshem reset the breaker, her daughter noticed sparks from an electric socket on a power strip. The sparks quickly ignited wallpapers, bed linen, and furniture. Despite some firefighting efforts by community worker Deng Mingxing (Chinese: 鄧明星) and neighbors from the 14th floor, the fire spread out of control. They notified the fire department and evacuated to the ground floor.[12][8] Officials said that a fireproof door on the 14th floor had been left open, which allowed the fire to spread.

Cars parked in the Jixiangyuan community and bollards reportedly blocked the fire trucks. Video footage posted to social media showed firetrucks unable to get close to the building, and water from the fire engines only barely reached the structure. Other posted videos were reported to have recorded the screams of those trapped in the fire.[5]

According to electrician Eli Sultan (Chinese: 艾力·苏力), who serves the Jixiangyuan community, the residential compound lacked sufficient roadway for fire engines to pass, as a critical rescue passageway was blocked by fences and bollards for traffic control, which he claimed was unrelated to COVID-19 measures. According to local fire department captain Xu Baoyong (Chinese: 徐宝勇), he had to remove many bollards to let the fire truck get close to the building.[12]

The fire was extinguished 3½ hours later, around 10:35 p.m. XJT time (2:35 p.m. GMT). Ten people, all Uyghurs, were reported to have died in the fire, including a three-year-old child, and a further nine were injured, according to authorities.[4][9][8][13]

Aftermath[edit]

Vigil outside of the Chinese Consulate in Toronto, Canada, on 27 November

After the fire, vigils and protests were held in Xinjiang, Shanghai, Nanjing, and Beijing, criticizing the Chinese government's zero-COVID policy, with some calling on CCP general secretary Xi Jinping to resign.[7] Members of the public criticized the government's excessive epidemic prevention laws, which they suspect prevented firefighters from arriving at the scene.[14]

Even though the fire happened in a Uyghur-majority neighborhood[15] and the resulting deaths were all of Uyghurs,[4] most of the protestors in Ürümqi were Han Chinese.[16]

In the former French Concession neighborhood of Shanghai, protesters mourned the victims of the fire. They called for an end to the zero-COVID policy and for Xi Jinping to step down as leader.[8]

In Beijing and Nanjing, protesters held up blank pieces of paper to mourn the victims of the fire as well as criticize the censorship of their government.[17] Protests also occurred at universities and colleges such as Tsinghua University,[7] Peking University,[18] and Sun Yat-sen University.[19]

Response[edit]

Chinese government[edit]

Ürümqi mayor Memtimin Qadir apologized to the city's residents on the evening of 25 November during a press conference, and promised an investigation.[20]

Li Wensheng, head of the Ürümqi City Fire Rescue Department, said that some residents' abilities to rescue themselves were "too weak" and that they had "failed to escape in time".[21] Political scientist Dali Yang from the University of Chicago proposed that the comments by authorities on residents having been able to go downstairs and escape may have further fuelled public anger for having been perceived as victim blaming.[22]

On 27 November 2022, Xinjiang officials promised to ease the lockdown measures without acknowledging the existence of the protest.[23]

Uyghur emigrant community[edit]

Washington-based Uyghur academic Tahir Imin told The New York Times that the fire department response was terrible, and the fire was not under control for three hours despite having available facilities and equipment.[1]

Abdulhafiz Maimaitimin, a Uyghur exile living in Switzerland,[24] told journalists his aunt Qemernisa Abdurahman (also transliterated as Haiernishahan Abdureheman) and four family members in China were not rescued in time due to living in a Uyghur-majority neighborhood. They also raised concerns that the number of victims was being underreported by Chinese officials.[5]

Merhaba Muhammad, a Uyghur emigrant living in Turkey, is also a relative of Abdurahman.[6] She told Newsweek that she lost contact with her family in 2016, after she left Xinjiang for international study. She claimed more than 44 people had died in the fire, citing her social media circles. She also expressed a belief that the local authorities did not prioritize saving her family because they were Uyghurs.[6]

Mohammad and Sharapat Mohammad Ali, also relatives of Abdurahman living in Turkey, expressed their grief over the accident.[25]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Che, Chang; Chang Chien, Amy (25 November 2022). "Fire Kills 10 in Xinjiang, Raising Questions About Lockdown". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  2. ^ a b "China Xinjiang: Ten dead in Urumqi residential block fire". BBC News. 25 November 2022. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  3. ^ a b Kang, Dake. "10 killed in apartment fire in northwest China's Xinjiang". The Washington Post. Associated Press. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 25 November 2022.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ a b c Hoshur, Shohret (2 December 2022). "Victims in Urumqi fire that sparked protests were all Uyghurs, officials confirm". Radio Free Asia. Retrieved 3 December 2022.
  5. ^ a b c "Man's agony after 5 relatives died in Covid policy-linked Urumqi fire". Bangkok Post. 28 November 2022. Retrieved 28 November 2022.
  6. ^ a b c Van Brugen, Isabel (28 November 2022). ""They never care": Angry relatives of China fire victims dispute death toll". Newsweek. Retrieved 28 November 2022.
  7. ^ a b c d Wong, Tessa; Williams, Nathan (27 November 2022). "China Covid: Protests continue in major cities across the country". BBC News. Retrieved 28 November 2022.
  8. ^ a b c d Yiu, Karson (27 November 2022). "How a deadly apartment fire fueled anti-zero-COVID protests across China: ANALYSIS". ABC News. Retrieved 28 November 2022.
  9. ^ a b "Ten people killed in an apartment building fire in China's north-west Xinjiang region". ABC News. 25 November 2022. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  10. ^ Zhang, Albee; Orr, Bernard (26 November 2022). "Apartment fire in China's Xinjiang region kills 10". Reuters. Retrieved 28 November 2022.
  11. ^ "10 killed in apartment fire in northwest China's Xinjiang". ABC News. Retrieved 30 November 2022.
  12. ^ a b 王兴瑞; 刘翔 (26 November 2022). "乌鲁木齐市"11·24"火灾四问". Tianshannet (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 28 November 2022. Retrieved 26 November 2022.
  13. ^ "乌鲁木齐市一高层住宅楼发生火灾造成10人死亡". Guangming Daily (in Chinese). 25 November 2022. Archived from the original on 25 November 2022. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  14. ^ FitzGerald, James; Williams, Sophie (27 November 2022). "China Xinjiang: Urumqi rocked by Covid lockdown protests after deadly fire". BBC News.
  15. ^ "Uyghur man's agony after five relatives died in Urumqi fire". France 24. 28 November 2022. Retrieved 1 December 2022.
  16. ^ "More anti-Covid lockdown protests in China after deadly fire". Le Monde.fr. 27 November 2022. Retrieved 1 December 2022.
  17. ^ Pollard, Martin Quin; Goh, Brenda (28 November 2022). "Blank sheets of paper become symbol of defiance in China protests". Reuters. Retrieved 28 November 2022.
  18. ^ Kuo, Lily; Wo, Pei-Lin (18 May 2022). "Pekking University students protest coronavirus lockdown restrictions in China". The Washington Post. Retrieved 6 December 2022.
  19. ^ Tan, Yvette (2 December 2022). "China signals ease in Covid policy after mass protests". BBC News. Retrieved 6 December 2022.
  20. ^ Cao, Steffi (26 November 2022). "Ten People Died In An Apartment Fire In Xinjiang. Their Doors Were Locked From The Outside Because Of Covid Restrictions". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved 28 November 2022.
  21. ^ "10 killed in apartment fire in China's Xinjiang". CBS News. 25 November 2022. Retrieved 28 November 2022.
  22. ^ Yew, Lun Tian (26 November 2022). "Protests erupt in Xinjiang and Beijing after deadly fire". Reuters. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  23. ^ Chen, Heather (27 November 2022). "China's Urumqi to ease Covid lockdown amid public anger over deadly fire". CNN.
  24. ^ Feng, Emily (28 November 2022). "How a deadly fire in Xinjiang prompted protests unseen in China in three decades". NPR.
  25. ^ "They lost 5 immediate family members in a fire. Hear why they can't attend the funeral". CNN. 29 November 2022.