Old Shangri-La Ravaged by Fire
Dukezong, the old center of Shangri-La (Zhong Dian), was attacked by a fire that devastated two thirds of the old town on Saturday, January 11, 2014. The town, over 1300 years old, was previously a popular tourist and cultural destination in Yunnan. The causes of the fire are reported to have been accidental.
From the original 1.5 km² area of historic Tibetan wood houses, 242 buildings, including shops and hotels, have entirely disappeared into flames, while 93 buildings were seriously damaged, impacting 2,600 individuals. The fire spare did not spare cultural relics either, destroying several traditional Tibetan paintings (Thangka) as well.
During a press conference, the authorities analyzed the efforts of fire fighters. According to their statement, the narrow streets prevented tankers from getting close enough to the fire, while the drainage of pipes (used to protect them from frost) and a pressure problem may also have impeded the fire brigade, slowing them down and forcing them to draw water from the river. The rapid spread of the fire could also have been caused by a strong wind that night. According to the Beijing Youth Daily, the street management team of Dukezong was only equipped with fire-fighting equipment in 2011, for a budget of 8 million yuan. The historic buildings themselves further complicated matters, as their traditional construction and materials made it rather difficult to conform to new fire safety requirements. The ongoing investigation has also revealed that many inhabitants of the area did not know how to use the individual fire extinguishers installed in their homes.
China Daily noted that this was not the first fire reported involving historic Tibetan buildings. Traditional Tibetan architecture typically utilizes pine wood, cedar and cypress, but these materials tend to severely dry out after several hundred years of use, and can become especially flammable in cold and dry weather. No one was hurt in the fire, and the hotels in the city have been reorganized to take in locals and tourists. The fire is expected to have only a small impact on the upcoming tourist season in the region.