Security guard says help was slow to arrive and the fire exit was blocked
Chen Sizhen, a 45-year-old fruit seller, was one of 16 people killed in a fire at a fruit market in the Guangming New District of Shenzhen on Wednesday morning.
She had been selling fruit for 20 years and had supported her family for the past 15 years, since her husband died. She lived and worked at the Rongjian Farmers Market with her three sons.
Chen Guochang, her brother, said her death was a heavy blow to the family, which hails from Meizhou, Guangdong province.
Hearing the news, relatives began to arrive at the hospital where Chen Sizhen’s body was being kept, asking the nurses to keep her a while longer.
“I have informed other family members to come and look at her for the last time,” said Chen.
The fire started at 1:30 am on Wednesday and was put out at 3 am. As of 7 pm, the death toll stood at 16. Among them is a 2-year-old girl.
Five more people were injured in the blaze, including two of Chen’s sons. They are receiving treatment at Guangming New District People’s Hospital, which is about 3 kilometers from the market.
Kong Li, a female employee of Aimeishi Grocery, across the street from the market, said that she saw the fire at about 2 am from her apartment.
“The flames were about 2 meters high over the roof of the building,” she said. “And the thick black smoke was almost everywhere.”
The fire department sent 29 fire engines and 145 firefighters.
At 150,000 square meters, Rongjian is a big wholesale market in the northwest of Shenzhen. It has over 1,600 tenants, most of whom sell fruit or vegetables.
The flames were about 2 meters high over the roof of the building.” KONG LI AN EMPLOYEE OF THE AIMEISHI GROCERY ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE MARKET
The fire occurred in section B of the market, engulfing an area of 1,000 square meters and leaving the ceiling blackened. More than 20 tenants lost their stores.
A giant excavator had been digging through the debris since Wednesday morning, while 10 firetrucks were parked along the street awaiting further orders. Local police and security guards had sealed off the whole area.
Gu Maolin, a security guard of the market, said that it took about 40 minutes for the firefighters to reach the scene.
“Other guards who helped to put out the fire said that there was no water coming from the fire hydrant, and the fire exit was blocked,” he said.
When asked about the malfunction of the fire hydrant, Zhang Xiaowei, chief of staff with the Shenzhen fire department, admitted that the water pressure in the market is not strong.
Zhang said that the low pressure gave firefighters an effective range of only 10 meters, but he said this was sufficient to reach the fire.
Other merchants next to section B were not affected. They said that they did not hear anything out of the ordinary during the night, indicating that there was no sound of an explosion when the fire occurred.
Guo Feng, a Party official from Guangming New District, said the government has set up several special teams to assist the victims’ families, providing psychological counseling and accommodation.
“We have instructed nearby districts and communities to have a thorough check to eliminate potential dangers,” he said.
Guo added that the market was created from an old factory built in the 1980s, and the ignition point could be a temporary structure built in 2008.
He said the government forbade tenants to live in the market because of potential dangers, but four families were known to live there. Guo said that the cause of the fire might be connected to one of these families.
A team of provincial officials has been sent to investigate the cause of the fire and identify any suspects.
Guo added, local police have been questioning the owner of the market, a man surnamed Xu.
Firefighters search for victims after a fire engulfed a fruit market in the Guangming New District of Shenzhen on Wednesday. At least 16 people were killed and five were injured in the blaze, which may have started in a temporary structure built in 2008.