The 44-floor Television Cultural Tower in Beijing housing the new 241-room Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which was due to open in the summer of 2009, was gutted by fire on February 9, the last night of the Chinese New Year.
According to international media Xinhua News Agency quoted a Beijing government spokesman as saying an initial investigation showed the fire was caused by "illegal launches of firecrackers." The official Chinese television service CCTV reported that nobody was inside the building at the time of the fire.
An initial statement from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group said that the property currently employs 60 staff, who all work in pre-opening offices near to the hotel, which were empty at the time of the fire. Mandarin Oriental has signed a long-term contract to manage the hotel and has no ownership interest in the building.
Eyewitnesses reported fleets of fire engines and 16 military units were dispatched to battle the flames. Police formed a cordon around the area to protect bystanders from large chunks of falling debris and sparks. They pushed onlookers back, warning that the building might collapse. According to Xinhua, more than 1,000 people were evacuated, and traffic control was imposed around the scene and on the eastern side of Third Ring Road.
Experts quoted in international media say that major fires in high rise buildings are very rare, since the completed buildings are compartmentalized with fire doors, fire-resistant drywall, and fire-resistant floors. However during the construction they are more vulnerable to fire since they are not yet compartmentalized and fire fighting equipment such as risers and sprinklers have not been installed and commissioned.