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Beijing on high alert for Lunar New Year fires


Firefighters in Beijing have been placed on high alert for this week's Lunar New Year festivities, with especially dry weather raising the risk of fireworks-related blazes, state media said Monday.

More than 7,000 firefighters will fan out across the city on Wednesday for Lunar New Year's Eve, when pyrotechnics will light up the capital's skies as revellers usher in the Year of the Rabbit, authorities said.

Beijing is suffering its worst drought in decades, with no significant precipitation since October 25. The capital's thus-far snow-free winter is the first of its kind since 1951.

"We must ensure everyone can have a whale of a time setting off fireworks," city fire bureau spokesman Xia Chunlei was quoted as saying by the China Daily.

But Xia warned residents to take extra precautions this year, noting: "Fires are more likely to break out. And they will spread more easily once they start."

Letting off fireworks on Lunar New Year's Eve and throughout the festive period is a long-held Chinese tradition based on the belief that the noise will ward off evil spirits and ghosts.

But it is also a notoriously dangerous practise, which was banned in Beijing between 1994 and 2005 but brought back due to popular demand.

In 2009, a blaze touched off by an illegal fireworks display engulfed a luxury hotel being built inside China's state TV headquarters complex, killing one firefighter and causing a public relations disaster for CCTV.

More than 900,000 boxes of fireworks and firecrackers have been put on sale in Beijing, state media said.