- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2009

BEIJING (AP) — An unfinished luxury hotel, next door to China Central Television’s landmark headquarters in downtown Beijing, went up in flames Monday just after being showered with sparks from fireworks set off during a holiday celebration.

There were no reports of deaths or injuries resulting from the fire.

The Mandarin Oriental hotel caught fire sometime before 9 p.m. (1300 GMT) as the skies above the Chinese capital were filled with exploding fireworks — part of celebrations of the lantern festival that follows the Lunar New Year.

The entire hotel building was engulfed in flames, sending off huge plumes of black smoke and showering the ground below with embers. At least seven fire crews were on the scene and police held back crowds of onlookers and closed a nearby elevated highway to ensure safety.

Li Jian said he saw smoke arising from the 44-story hotel’s roof shortly after a huge burst of fireworks showered it with sparks, though it was not clear if they started the fire.

“Smoke came out for a little while but then it just started burning,” Li said.

Calls to the Beijing fire service were answered by people who confirmed the fire but said they were unable to release any details.

The hotel, due to open this year, lies on the northern edge of a complex that also includes CCTV’s imposing Z-shaped headquarters, a major prestige project for the city. The Mandarin Oriental was due to be one of Beijing’s most luxurious hotels, with 241 guest rooms.

Both buildings were designed by Rotterdam, Netherlands, architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren for the firm OMA. Both were nearing the end of construction. Along with Mandarin Oriental, the hotel building was to have housed a visitors center, a theater and exhibition spaces.

Beijing usually tightly restricts the use of fireworks in the downtown area, but waives the rules each year during the Lunar New Year holiday. Monday, the final day of the exemption period, marked the first full moon since the Lunar New Year, and massive fireworks barrages exploded between buildings and in open spaces throughout the city.

Erik Amir a senior architect at building designers OMA said the fire had destroyed years of hard work.

“It really has been a rough six-seven years for architects who worked on this project,” said Amir, who rushed to the site after hearing of the fire.

“I think it’s really sad that this building is destroyed before it can be opened to the public,” he said.

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