At least 25 people died and dozens were hurt Friday when a packed commuter bus burst into flames and was destroyed within minutes during the morning rush hour in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu.
Videos posted online and shown on state television showed thick black smoke and flames pouring from the bus on the side of a busy highway. One badly burned woman was shown lying on the road with a man standing nearby, his clothes burned off.
A total of 76 people were injured, with six of them in intensive care, city government spokesman Ma Zhixiong said.
State broadcaster CCTV cited witnesses as saying the sealed, air-conditioned bus caught fire without an explosion and then burned rapidly. Like many vehicles in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, the bus ran on natural gas rather than gasoline.
Interviewed by a Web site operated by the Chengdu city government, resident Tao Shoulang said he was sitting in the front row with his grandniece when the bus filled with smoke so quickly that he was unable to see the driver.
Pedestrians rushed to break the vehicle's windows, allowing Tao to toss the little girl to safety before scrambling out. Both sustained only minor injuries.
Bombers and mechanical problems
Previous fires and explosions aboard public buses in China have been blamed on rogue bombers or people seeking revenge for perceived slights, but mechanical problems are not uncommon. Three people were killed last year in a fire aboard a sealed, air-conditioned bus in Shanghai, with witnesses saying some passengers were trapped because windows could not be opened and at least one door was stuck shut.
Wang Hongyan, a professor at Tongji University's vehicle design institute in Shanghai, said such buses should be equipped with hammers to allow passengers to break windows, but China's national regulations don't currently require that.
Wang said natural gas used by buses is stored in tanks at extremely high pressure, increasing the risk of ignition in the event of a leak.
"Once the tank is breached, the gas will leak very quickly," she said.
More on: China