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China: Olympic outhouses catch on fire, explode

Categories: East Asia, China, Development, Governance, Labor, Photography, Sport, Olympics

Global Voices OlympicsThe 24 Hours Online blogger Laohu ‘Tiger Temple’ Miao, who spent months earlier this year blogging the stories of destitute Beijing residents [1] whose makeshift homes were harmonized [2] to make way for the Olympics brings us a post today [3] about a fire yesterday not far from the Olympic Bird Nest [4] which began in portable toilets used by construction workers there and resulted in several small explosions.



This neighborhood is just a block away from the Bird Nest, and since four years ago when construction of the Bird Nest began, this place has become a hot spot for construction workers to hang out in their free time. Drinking, eating together, making calls at the phone booth, buying their daily necessities. It's been pretty lively for a few years already. These days, as work on the Bird Nest gradually wraps up, fewer construction workers are showing up, and for that reason a number of shops have already closed down, and the few that are left are just barely getting by, anticipating new luck coming soon.

To explain residents’ views on this fire, you have to look at the whole story. A few months back, the Olympic Organizing Committee [5] put up the money to put up an plastic-plated decorative aluminum wall alongside this neighborhood so that not every laowai [6] who walks by has to see it. Many residents were opposed to this, but didn't say so—only because it was a ‘tofu dregs’ [7] construction job that this face was getting put onto—but they did want to point out that in order to keep it from being too easy for laowais to enter and observe, they went out of their way to seal off the two gates on the west side of the neighborhood (facing the Bird Nest), leaving only a single-person entry/exit point which until now leaves residents having to make a detour to go buy things. And the key point in this fire, it's precisely because the gates are sealed, cutting off a fire exit, that when the fire trucks came, they had to stop on Beichen East Road [8] and were left feeling useless. Because of this, residents now have many objections, feeling quite strange about the weird justification for the design of the ornamental project which has now led to journalists from many countries coming to take many photos. It has truly left the community residents very unhappy.


According to eyewitnesses at the scene, the large fire started inside the two iron portable toilets there. Because the wall construction has already been completed and the workers have already left the site, the two toilets are only being used by those left to guard the site, and to stop others from using them the toilet doors were bolted shut by the workers. So whatever it was inside that exploded like thunder when it came in contact with fire has become a riddle. Firefighters arrived twenty minutes after it was reported because traffic was heavy at the time and getting stuck in traffic couldn't be avoided, but with the Olympics soon to be here, I'm afraid it's going to be hard for people to forgive this kind of emergency response speed. The fire squad had to struggle, just seeing them jumping back and forth over that newly-locked steel fence, feeding the hose through (see photos [3]), you honestly wouldn't have known whether to laugh or to cry!

Two fire trucks were dispatched for this, one ambulance, two police cars and countess police motorcycles that were only being used to shuttle around. From start to finish they struggled for about 40 minutes, and then the fire was out.

Only because of the sensitivity of the location, when the large fire broke out, dozens of laowais immediately rushed over to take pictures. This kind of scene is presumably painful to watch for patriotic types. After the fire, people slowly began dispersing until only residents remained, looking at the scorched side of the decorative fence so recently installed, leaving the crowd also just one topic: ‘face’ projects, turns out they're bad for people!