CCTV’s Towering Inferno

There is something primordial about a massive fire in a city. The towering inferno that was one of CCTV’s still unopened new headquarters buildings in Beijing has produced mesmerizing images, as well as a Twitterfest.  Shanghaiist has a collection of some of the best shots taken by eyewitnesses (whatever did we do before there were digital cameras?).

Illegally set New Year fireworks are already being blamed for the fire. BBC has some stunning video footage, links here and here,  that certainly looks as if there were bursts of fireworks exploding. Hard to imagine that fireworks alone could have sparked such a conflagration. What effect did the building’s unusual zinc-titanium skin have? Who knows how much will come out from whatever investigation is held–especially on the state broadcaster.

State media didn’t feature the fire prominently as it was happening. ChinaSmack says that news portals may have been instructed to limit information about the fire to Xinhua bulletins. It also has more photos.

The destroyed building was to have housed CCTV’s Television Cultural Center, including a theater and recording studios, and a Mandarin Oriental hotel, due to be completed towards the end of this year. It was part of CCTV’s architecturally daring Big Underpants complex being built  at a cost of 5 billion yuan  ($730 million).

Even if the death toll remains at one, a firefighter–and the building was said to have been empty, so let’s hope–this is going to prove an challenging PR test for the propagandists. This goes way beyond yet another safety-sloppy industrial accident. This is iconic new Beijing being scorched and blackened by a primal force. And at New Year. A bad omen. Senior heads at CCTV will likely roll.

Update: CCTV’s site manager, Xu Wei, 50, is among 12 people detained under suspicion of having caused the fire with banned fireworks, a spokesman for the municipal public security bureau said Thursday.

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