22 punished for roles in deadly blaze

Authorities conclude investigation of parlor where 18 people died

A total of 22 people were punished in connection with a fire that killed 18 people in Zhejiang province in February, the province’s work safety watchdog said in an online statement announcing the results of its investigation on Tuesday.

One official was dismissed and two others were demoted. Ten others received lesser punishments, including demerits and admonishment.

Two of the victims were employees of the foot massage parlor that burned in Tiantai county, Taizhou city; the others were customers. The blaze, which occurred on Feb 5, also injured 18 other people.

Li Hua, Party chief of the Tiantai county fire brigade, was dismissed. Ma Lingguang, former Party chief of the brigade, and Gao Yunpeng, a former staff officer of the brigade, were demoted, the Zhejiang Work Safety Administration said.

It also said three officials, including the deputy secretary-general of the Taizhou city government, Ying Zhengnan, who was working as deputy head of Tiantai at the time of the fire, have been given demerits on their records.

Nine people, including shareholders of the parlor and heads of companies who were involved in the parlor’s construction and decoration, have been in custody for criminal investigation. In addition to the potential criminal charges, the nine should shoulder the civil compensation to the victims, the administration said.

Investigators attributed the fire to malfunctioning electro-thermal film in a sauna that resulted in excess heat. The parlor resorted to deceit to get its operating permission from the authorities and also put the sauna into use after ignoring authorities’ requirement to rectify problems. The lack of firefighting knowledge on the part of the parlor’s employees made the situation worse, the investigation found.

The sauna malfunctioned three times from 2015 to last year, but after the malfunction in October, the parlor failed to take corrective measures, the investigation found.

There were 78 people, including 48 customers, in the parlor when the fire broke out. An employee named Xiong Shouxin tried but failed to put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher after a customer called for help. Only after finding the fire was out of control, Xiong left the parlor to shout to customers on the second floor to get out, the authorities said.

Managers failed to train employees in emergency procedures or hold evacuation exercises after it went into operation in 2014, the authorities said.