At least 22 people died in a blaze that gutted a two-story workers’ dormitory in eastern China on Sunday, and investigators suspect the fire was the work of an arsonist who used gasoline, according to local news reports.
Police officers arrested a suspect in Yushan Town, Jiangsu Province, Chinese Central Television news reported. But the report gave no motive for the fire, which broke out around 4:30 a.m. in a house serving as a dormitory for 29 or so restaurant workers.
Videos shared on news websites showed residents yelling in panic while firefighters stood outside the building in Jiangsu, and a dense ribbon of smoke rose into the sky. The pictures indicated that the windows were blocked with anti-theft grates, which might have stymied people from jumping to safety. Six people managed to escape, including three who were injured and sent to the hospital. One resident was missing, the reports said.
Safety investigators discovered “traces of burned gasoline at the scene, and the doors had all been locked from the outside,” the State Administration of Work Safety wrote online.
The police used surveillance video to identify and arrest a suspect, identified by only one name, Jiang, said the reports, which gave no other details. The town government said the suspect had been caught in the afternoon near the site of the fire, hiding inside a water tank on top of a building, the China News Service reported.
The site of the fire raised the possibility that it might have started from a business or work dispute that turned into a deadly attack, like other fires and bombings that have struck small towns and cities in China. The building was being rented by a restaurant using it to house cooks, waiters and other employees, investigators said.
Last month, an explosion outside a kindergarten in another part of Jiangsu Province killed eight people and injured 65 others, and the police said it had been ignited by a resident who appeared to have psychological problems.
A fire on a school bus in neighboring Shandong Province killed 11 children in May, and the police concluded it had been started by the driver.