Dozens of Women Killed in Factory Fire Tragedy

A fire at a factory in central China has claimed dozens of victims, mostly women, in the country's latest industrial tragedy, state media outlets said on Tuesday.

The blaze in Anyang, a city of 5.5 million people in Henan province, broke out at roughly 4:30 p.m. local time on Monday and wasn't brought under control for another four hours, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. The fire would only be fully extinguished by 11 p.m.

City authorities confirmed the deaths of at least 38 people, with an additional two victims said to have been treated in hospital for minor injuries. An unspecified number of suspects connected to the ownership and operation of the factory were taken into custody on as yet undisclosed charges.

China Factory Fire Kills 38
Damaged buildings are seen at the site of an explosion at a factory owned by the Henan Coal Gas Group in Yima city, in China's central Henan province, on July 20, 2019. State media reports said 38 people were killed in a factory fire in Anyang, Henan, on November 21, 2022. AFP via Getty Images

Local newspaper Henan Daily, citing the findings of a preliminary investigation, said the fire was caused by "illegal activity," including violations of welding regulations.

State media footage showed flames and smoke engulfing a two-story steel structure in Anyang's Wenfeng district reportedly belonging to industrial goods company Kaixinda Trading. The facility dealt with the storage of various materials including "specialized chemicals," reports said.

According to CCTV, plastics, cloths, furniture and medicines were among the materials that caught fire, while some 240 firefighters and 63 fire trucks were reportedly dispatched to the scene.

The economy of Henan, a densely populated province of 99 million people, mostly thrives on agriculture, heavy industry and the extraction of raw minerals. Larger urban areas host high-tech and service industries; provincial capital Zhengzhou, for instance, is home to Apple's largest iPhone assembler.

Monday's fire killed a large number of women who had been employed to make cotton clothes and pants, reported Hangzhou-based newspaper Metro Express. Their presence at the factory was typical of the mostly female workers toiling in China's garment and textile industries.

A nearby supermarket owner, a man identified by the last name Chen, told the paper that the production and storage facility was constructed five or six years earlier. "Mostly women worked in the factory. There are many of these storage facilities in the area," he said.

Most of the women were from nearby villages. A close relative in her 60s was among the victims, he said. "The youngest victim was in her 30s and the oldest in her 70s."

While a detailed examination of the events leading up to the fire was still to come, similar industrial accidents in the past were typically caused by the lax enforcement of safety standards—due to cost-cutting, oversight or corruption—in certain Chinese localities.

Dozens were arrested in the port city of Tianjin in northeastern China after a series of explosions rocked a chemical warehouse in August 2015. The incident killed at least 165 people and injured hundreds more in one of the country's worst-ever industrial disasters.