Chinese authorities on Thursday blamed basic safety lapses for the deaths this week of 120 poultry workers in one of the nation's deadliest fires in recent years.
Two senior executives at the north China processing plant, Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Co., were detained as part of the ongoing criminal investigation, according to government statements. As they begin to detail reasons for the inferno, authorities are also working to allay anger among families of the dead and 77 people injured.
The four-year-old plant was built with combustible materials, lacked extinguishers and had too few escape routes, most of which were locked, according to government statements that largely confirm survivor accounts reported immediately after the disaster.
Workers reported difficulty escaping the six-hour inferno, sparked around dawn Monday and possibly fueled by ammonia used in equipment cooling. They said the plant went dark inside as smoke billowed around. On Thursday, the government confirmed exits were locked and no evacuation instructions were ever provided to the 300 or so who worked there.
The plant's safety procedures were 'a total mess,' Yang Dongliang, director of a body directly under the State Council, the State Administration of Work Safety, said Thursday. In comments carried by the official Xinhua news agency, he said unnamed government authorities share fault.
'As the main body of work-safety enforcement, the company bears ultimate responsibility for the accident, while the government is also responsible for its management and supervision duties,' said Mr. Yang.
The structure's materials and layout created 'an enormous fire hazard,' Gao Guangbin, the top Communist Party official in Changchun, the nearest big city to the plant which was located in the city of Dehui in Jilin Province, said in a government statement this week.
On Thursday, Changchun Mayor Jiang Zhiying accepted a level of blame to the investigation team being led by the central government, according to a statement from the government there. Mr. Jiang pledged cooperation with the investigation.
For many in China, the accident was the latest to highlight widespread risks in the country's workplaces, on its roads and in other areas of daily life.
Before he embarked on a multination tour that will bring him to the U.S., Chinese President Xi Jinping last week pledged to address the country's 'deep-rooted' safety problems. He kicked off a campaign, according to Xinhua, aimed at correcting safety shortfalls 'in a systematic, integrated and lawful manner to ensure people's livelihoods, social order and the country's long-term stability.'
After Monday's chicken-plant fire, authorities also worked to calm nerves. Counselors were dispatched to meet with each affected family. But authorities also warned they wouldn't tolerate 'mass incidents,' a reference to protests.
Information about victims has been slow to emerge. On the Internet, one user published what he said was a list of those admitted to several hospitals in Changchun and Dehui. Hospital workers contacted by telephone this week said they weren't authorized to speak.
Photos of the Baoyuanfeng Poultry plant show a building charred to its steel frame.
Authorities took steps toward punishing the company, freezing Baoyuanfeng Poultry's bank account and detaining its chairman, Jia Yushan, and its general manager, Zhang Yushen, as part of the criminal investigation, according to Xinhua.