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17 killed, 24 hurt in fire in illegal Beijing building

BEIJING --- Seventeen poor migrants died when a fire swept through an illegally constructed Beijing building Monday, state media and officials said, in the latest accident to highlight lax Chinese fire safety.

Another 24 people were hurt in the fire that broke out at about 1 a.m. (1700 GMT Sunday) in the four-story building in the capital's southern Daxing district, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.

It was put out by firefighters about an hour later.

The building in Jiugong town was illegally built by a local resident who leased out its ground floor to a couple who ran a garment processing business, Xinhua said.

The fire was believed to have started in the garment workshop, which also lacked the proper business registrations, it said.

The victims were all migrant workers living in the building and mostly died from smoke inhalation.

Deadly fires are common in China and are typically blamed on lax observation and enforcement of fire-safety measures.

State-run broadcaster China Central Television ran video shot at the scene several hours after the blaze, showing the inside of the concrete structure gutted and charred by fire, and piles of garments still smoldering.

A woman official who answered the phone at the local government headquarters in Jiugong confirmed to AFP the numbers of dead and wounded but declined to provide other details.

State-run China Central Television quoted a local official saying an electrical short-circuit was suspected as the cause of the fire, but that an investigation was under way.

Xinhua said some of the building's windows were protected by iron bars which may have prevented people from escaping the fire.

The blaze spread to upper floors, which were being rented out as residences, Xinhua said. An earlier report by the agency had said workshop employees had been living upstairs.

One of the operators of the garment workshop was among those injured, it added.

Anxious to tamp down public anger over repeated fire disasters, China's government routinely orders nationwide safety crackdowns after particularly deadly blazes, but such disasters continue to occur.

In November, a fire engulfed a high-rise apartment building in Shanghai, leaving 58 people dead.

A preliminary investigation blamed that inferno on careless work by unlicensed welders who ignited nylon netting swathing the building, which was being renovated to improve energy efficiency.

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 17 killed, 24 hurt in fire in illegal Beijing building 
A Chinese policeman attempts to control a crowd gathered at the site of a fire in Daxing district of Beijing, China, Monday, April 25. At least 17 people were killed in the early Monday morning fire in a four-story building in southern Beijing, state media reported. (AP)

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