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Night fire destroys ancient Tibetan town in China

  • A firefighter works on a roof of a wooden building while a fire ravages ancient Dukezong town in Shangri-la county, in southwestern China's Yunnan province, Saturday Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo)

BEIJING: An inferno that raged for 10 hours early Saturday razed an ancient Tibetan town in China's southwest Yunnan province that's popular with tourists.

There was no immediate report of casualties, and the cause of the fire was unclear, although a provincial news site said it started in a guesthouse on an old street.

The blaze broke out at 1:27 a.m. in the ancient Tibetan quarter of Dukezong, which dates back more than 1,000 years and is known for its preserved cobbled streets, ancient structures and Tibetan culture. It is part of the scenic Shangri-La county in Deqen prefecture and had been renovated to lure tourists.

The county was once called Gyaitang Zong, but changed its name in 2001 to Shangri-La, hoping to draw tourists by the reference to the mythical Himalayan land described in James Hilton's 1933 novel. The county has since benefited from tourism revenue. Hundreds of other Chinese cities have also rebuilt their old streets to attract visitors.

Photos and video footage showed the ancient neighborhood of Dukezong and its labyrinth of houses engulfed in flames that turned the night sky red.

He Yu, a resident, said she woke to loud, explosion-like sounds to find the ancient neighborhood on fire.

"The fire was huge. The wind was blowing hard, and the air was dry. I was scared because my home is a little distance away from the ancient town," she said. "It kept burning, and the firefighters were there, but there was little they could do because they could not get the fire engines onto the old town's narrow streets."

More than 2,000 firefighters, soldiers, police, local officials and volunteers responded to the blaze and brought it under control around 11 a.m., the Shangri-La county government said.

More than 100 houses in the old Dukezong quarter were destroyed, local authorities said. Most structures were made of wood and the fire spread easily because of dry weather, state media said.

 
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Summary

An inferno that raged for 10 hours early Saturday razed an ancient Tibetan town in China's southwest Yunnan province that's popular with tourists.

The blaze broke out at 1:27 a.m. in the ancient Tibetan quarter of Dukezong, which dates back more than 1,000 years and is known for its preserved cobbled streets, ancient structures and Tibetan culture. It is part of the scenic Shangri-La county in Deqen prefecture and had been renovated to lure tourists.

The county was once called Gyaitang Zong, but changed its name in 2001 to Shangri-La, hoping to draw tourists by the reference to the mythical Himalayan land described in James Hilton's 1933 novel.


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