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Fire in poultry slaughterhouse kills 119 in China's deadliest blaze for more than a decade

The fire is likely to once again highlight the lax safety standards at many Chinese workplaces

At least 119 people were killed and dozens injured when a blaze tore through a locked poultry slaughterhouse in the north-east of China on Monday – the latest disaster to highlight China’s appalling industrial safety record.

The fire broke out just after dawn near the town of Dehui in Jilin province, when local residents said they heard three big explosions. Survivors told state media that only one door to the plant was open while other exits were locked and the fire spread within three minutes.

Employees told CCTV the fire may have started in a locker room at a time when 350 workers were at the slaughterhouse. “It happened so fast – we first saw a flash, then there was a big ‘bang’,” one unnamed employee said. “We knew it was bad, so then we all ran. We didn’t know what happened, we didn’t know it was an explosion.”

The provincial government said it sent more than 500 firefighters and more than 270 doctors and nurses to the scene and had also evacuated 3,000 nearby residents as a precaution. The fire is the worst industrial accident in China since a mining disaster in 2008 that killed 281.

The accident highlighted the high human costs of China’s lax industrial safety standards, which continue to plague workplaces despite improvements in the country’s work-safety record in recent years. Many of China’s factories have sprung up in recent decades to drive the country’s rapid economic growth, but accidents and chemical spills are common.