According to a Xinhua news agency, the detainees include the former head of the local construction bureau and several fire department officials. ‘Some of the suspects… falsified information to hide the facts that no serious fire safety inspections had been conducted and that proper fire safety equipment was not in place,’ the agency said.
The fire was China’s deadliest factory blaze in living memory – the death toll exceeded that of the 1993 fire at a Shenzhen toy factory in which 87 people died – and was the worst fire since 309 people died in 2000 in a blaze at a Luoyang dance hall in Henan province.
According to investigators, early on 3 June 2013 a short circuit ignited flammable materials at the Dehui plant causing a rapidly spreading blaze. Local media reported that people struggled to escape because the building’s narrow hallways made it difficult to reach the exits.
The many regulations created by China’s government to avoid such incidents are frequently ignored by local authorities, which choose instead to focus on boosting economic development. China’s Communist leaders have also created several competing industrial safety organisations, which it is claimed have decreased workplace accidents by more than 33% in the past five years and the death toll by more than 29%.
Yet recent data from the Public Security Bureau indicates that fire accidents at construction sites and agricultural production factories are increasing. In 2011, China recorded more than 125,400 fire accidents that killed over 1,100 people and caused $335m (£219m) in economic losses. The bureau also notes that fires on construction sites in 2011 increased by 5.7% from 2010 and fires in agricultural factories increased 8.9% from 2010.
Experts have commented that the incident in Jilin highlights the lack of fire prevention equipment or fire safety training available to Chinese workers and that, despite some improvement in accident prevention, a real culture of safety is lacking in Chinese workplaces.