By Steve Toloken and Nina Ying Sun, Plastics News staff
Shenzhen, China - The fire at a plastics recycling plant on 27 Feb in Shenzhen which killed at least 15 people and injured three, started amid waste materials and quickly spread to other parts of a multi-storey industrial building, local media reported.
The 15 dead were employees of LongFei Recycling Co. Ltd, where the fire apparently started, and two other nearby recycling operations, according to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post. The youngest victim was 14, a local newspaper reported.
Fire officials said the fire started around 4 a.m. on the first floor of LongFei, a foam recycling company. It took 77 firefighters and 19 trucks three hours to extinguish the blaze, which covered more than 16,000 square feet.
The city posted a news release on its Web site saying workers were living in the same area where waste materials were kept.
"Without city approval, this company built an attic above a flammable-waste-products storage area for workers to live," the release said. "This caused the casualties and injuries in the fire."
Firefighters uncovered eight bodies in a tiny attic of less than 54 square feet. Trapped workers attempted to escape, but garage doors blocked their way, a survivor told the media.
"We had to cut the metal doors to go in," the fire department said.
Residents in the neighborhood said the building caught fire a couple of years ago, but the government has not confirmed that, according to Guangzhou Daily.
The South China Morning Post said Shenzhen Mayor Xu Zonghueng "lashed out" at local fire-prevention officials, and said most of the 20 companies in the building were unlicensed.
XingLong Foam Recycling Co. was also affected by the fire. The owners of LongFei and XingLong are brothers, local officials told the media, and reported that the 14-year-old victim was a relative.
Shenzhen officials called an emergency meeting and said they will start a citywide investigation on factory safety conditions. The provincial government also has formed a special team to investigate the incident.
Toland Lam, president of the Recycling Committee of the China Plastics Processing Industry Association, told Plastics News that recycling companies are required to observe fire precautions.
"But that costs money, and small companies, especially those that operate without licenses, often ignore it," Lam said. "They are under the authorities' radar."
Geoff Crothall, editor for Hong Kong-based labour rights group China Labour Bulletin, said it's common for small factories to have workers living in the same building as production space and without adequate fire safety.
"Small-scale factories where workers live in the same building or the same complex generally have very poor fire prevention," he said.
There have been other recent plastics-related fires in China, including one in January 2007, when 13 people died and five were injured in a plastics recycling plant blaze in the neighboring city of Dongguan.