From ABC’s Chito Romana in Beijing:
Traffic is back to normal in the streets near the new, iconic headquarters of the state-owned broadcaster, China Central Television (CCTV). Crowds of curious onlookers gathered to view the 520-feet building — a creation of the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas — which was gutted by last night’s huge fire.
State media reports have now confirmed what everyone suspected — that the big blaze was caused by fireworks. Beijing was filled last night with the noisy sounds of fireworks and firecrackers as people celebrated the Lantern Festival making the first full moon of the Lunar New Year. But what caught public attention was the news conference held by Luo Yan, deputy chief of the city fire control bureau: Luo said the fireworks were part of an Olympic-style display put up by CCTV itself.
Powerful devices that violated city regulations were used, and when the local police warned about these fireworks, the warnings fell on deaf ears.
The resulting blaze not only destroyed a luxury hotel that the Mandarin Oriental chain hoped to open later this year; it also cost the life of one firefighter who inhaled toxic smoke and injured six others.
And the revelation by the fire department official prompted a rare public apology from CCTV. The state broadcaster said it “feels sorrowful for the great loss that the fire inflicted on national assets” and “sincerely apologizes for the traffic congestion and inconvenience” experienced by city residents.
CCTV said the fireworks display was carried out without the approval of its leaders and promised to cooperate fully with the Beijing authorities in dealing with the investigation.
In one measure of public indignation, thousands posted their comments in internet chat rooms calling for a total ban of fireworks.