China state broadcaster apologizes for hotel fire

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BEIJING (AP) -- The pyrotechnics that set fire to a new luxury hotel, gutting the structure and killing a firefighter, were so powerful that a special permit was needed - but it was never obtained, China's state broadcaster said Tuesday.

China Central Television, which organized the Lunar New Year fireworks at its striking new complex, apologized for a celebration that went horribly wrong.

The unfinished, 520-foot (159-meter) Mandarin Oriental hotel, its charred metal skin now twisted and peeled, stands in a complex housing the network's Z-shaped headquarters - a project that helped transform the capital's skyline for the Olympics.

The complex, designed by Dutch architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren, had been due to open in May and cost 5 billion yuan ($731 million). There was no immediate word on damage to the CCTV tower.

Pyrotechnics set off to celebrate the end of the Lunar New Year were to blame for the fire, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Luo Yuan, a spokesman for the Beijing fire department, as saying.

He told Xinhua that CCTV hired a fireworks company to ignite several hundred large fireworks in an open area beside the hotel. Video footage posted online showed spectacular bursts of fireworks above the building.

The fire lit up the night sky, showering the ground with embers and charred debris as police held back crowds of onlookers.

Beijing usually tightly restricts the use of fireworks downtown, but it waives the rules during the Lunar New Year. Monday was the final day possible for fireworks, marking the first full moon since the Lunar New Year, and huge barrages exploded throughout the city.

The Xinhua said 30-year-old firefighter Zhang Jianyong died early Tuesday after suffering respiratory tract injuries fighting the blaze. Six other firefighters were injured.

Firefighting ladders only reached about 295 feet (90 meters) up the building, and the blaze wasn't put out until early Tuesday after burning for more than five hours.

CCTV said it was deeply grieved "for the severe damage the fire caused to the country's property."

"According to the Beijing fire department, this fire occurred because the person in charge of the construction of the new building project of CCTV, without permission, hired staff to set off fireworks that violated regulations," the broadcaster said in a statement on its Web site.

The fireworks used were classified as grade "A," making them powerful and dangerous enough that a special permit was needed to set them off downtown.

However, the display's organizers did not obtain such permits and ignored police warnings, CCTV said. Because the building was still under construction, fire fighting systems were not yet functioning, it said.

CCTV did cover the fire outside its own new headquarters, but it was not the top story.

Staff of a company from the central province of Hunan hired for the fireworks job were being questioned, and video of the event was being reviewed, Luo told a news conference.

Luo said the fireworks were similar to those used during last year's Olympics.

Among questions to be answered are whether the hotel can be rebuilt, or whether it will have to be torn down.

Arup, the British design and engineering firm that worked on the complex, issued a statement saying it was "shocked and saddened" but did not know the extent of the damage.

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