At least 11 people were killed and another 17 injured when a fire broke out at a small family-run underwear workshop in Puning county, Guangdong, in the early afternoon of 26 March.
Official media reports said 45 fire fighters battled the blaze at the five-storey concrete structure which appeared to have only one exit. The cause of the fire is still under investigation although the Southern Metropolis Daily reported that the factory contained plastic and foam materials that gave off toxic fumes, which may have caused many of the fatalities.
Provincial government officials announced the results of a preliminary investigation on 2 April, which showed that the fire had been caused by the three-year-old daughter of the factory manager, who was playing with a lighter near a stack of foam rubber in the building’s stairwell.
In addition, officials said that, in total, 12 people had died as a result of the fire and that all the families of the deceased had now signed compensation agreements.
The Puning fire followed a blaze at shoe factory in Zhejiang on 14 January which killed 16 people and a fire at a wholesale market in Shenzhen in December, which also killed 16 people including three young children.
Thus far there is little evidence that any improvements have been made to workplace safety standards in China since the worst factory fire in living memory killed 121 workers at a poultry plant in Jilin in June 2013. Many factories have minimal or no fire prevention equipment, hazardous and inflammable materials are stored on site, workplace exits are often locked and workers are not given any training in fire prevention or what to do in the event of a fire.
Puning, which is adjacent to the coastal city of Shantou, had seen several similar tragedies over the last decade, the South China Morning Post reported. In December 2012, 14 young women workers died in a blaze at a lingerie factory in Shantou. In April that year, three workers died a workshop in in a four-storey building. In February 2010, seven people died in Daping village in Puning. In May, 2006, 13 workers died in Gurao Township in Shantou, and in December 2003, 10 workers died in Hudong village in Puning.