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deadly blaze

Beijing hospital fire kills 29 people, mostly elderly patients

A Beijing hospital fire killed 29 people Tuesday, in what CNN calls the  "deadliest fire to hit the Chinese capital in two decades." Details about the deadly blaze did not emerge until several hours later, "and even then, the details were slim as authorities kept a tight lid on details," CNN adds. 

The fire was the most deadly in Beijing in recent history, "surpassing the toll from a fire in 2017 that killed 19 in a cramped two-story building in Daxing district in the capital's southern suburb," CNN explains. It is also "one of the most heavily censored incidents in recent years," CNN says, "a sign of the tightening controls on media in China under leader Xi Jinping, the country's most authoritarian leader in a generation."

Preliminary investigations show that the fire broke out in an inpatient building of Changfeng Hospital, and was caused by welding sparks that ignited flammable paint during interior renovation work, Zhao Yang, an official at Beijing's fire department, said on Wednesday. Officials said the majority of the people who died were elderly patients, along with a nurse, a medical assistant, and a patient's relative. 

As news and images of the fire spread around social media, the Chinese state media remained silent for hours, "and censors appeared to scrub the internet of any mentions," CNN writes. Family members of patients at the Changfeng Hospital said they were kept in the dark as the incident unfolded. The Bejing Daily, the official newspaper of China's capital, published a "terse report" about the fire "more than 7 hours after the blaze was put out and over 5 hours after rescue efforts wrapped up," per CNN. 

Though government censors "sought to quell public anger by restricting information on the internet in the initial hours after the fire," The New York Times says that censorship eventually relaxed.  A Beijing public security official said authorities took a dozen people into custody on suspicion of liability and negligence, including the hospital's director, deputy director, and the head of the construction company.