Image: damaged Mandarin Oriental hotel building
Alexander F. Yuan  /  AP
The fire damaged Mandarin Oriental hotel building.
updated 2/10/2009 9:52:16 AM ET 2009-02-10T14:52:16

China's state-run television broadcaster apologized Tuesday for an unlicensed fireworks display that sparked a blaze that destroyed a luxury hotel in the network's headquarters complex in downtown Beijing.

The fire, which sent off huge plumes of black smoke and showered the ground with embers, left one firefighter dead and a handful of others injured, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The blaze was put out early Tuesday after burning for more than five hours at the unfinished Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Xinhua quoted Luo Yuan, a spokesman for the Beijing fire department, as saying that fireworks set off to celebrate the Lunar New Year were to blame for the fire that destroyed the nearly finished Mandarin Oriental hotel.

He was quoted as saying CCTV had hired a fireworks company to ignite several hundred large fireworks in an open area by the hotel. Video footage posted on Youtube showed spectacular bursts of fireworks above the top of the building in downtown Beijing.

"According to the Beijing fire department, this fire occurred because the person in charge of the construction of the new building project of CCTV, without permission, hired staff to set off fireworks that violated regulations," China Central Television said in a statement on its Web site.

CCTV said it was deeply grieved "for the severe damage the fire caused to the country's property."

Transforming the skyline
The 520-foot Mandarin Oriental, designed by Netherlands architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren, was part of a stunning CCTV complex that helped transform the capital's skyline for last year's Olympics.

The dynamic Z-shaped CCTV tower next to the hotel quickly became a symbol of a modernizing and powerful China. The whole complex cost 5 billion yuan ($731 million), according to Xinhua.

Luo told a news conference the people from a company in Hunan province hired to set off the fireworks were being questioned.

Luo said the fireworks were similar to those used during the Beijing Olympics. Xinhua quoted him as saying because the fireworks were much more powerful than what was available at roadside stalls during the Lunar New Year holiday, approval was needed from the city government before they could be set off in downtown areas.

"The owners of the property ignored police warnings that such fireworks were not allowed," said Luo.

Beijing usually tightly restricts the use of fireworks downtown, but waives the rules each year during the Lunar New Year holiday. Monday was the final day for the firework exception, marking the first full moon since the Lunar New Year, and massive barrages exploded in open spaces throughout the city.

A 30-year-old firefighter died after suffering respiratory tract injuries fighting the blaze, Xinhua said.

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