A "major fireball" in the night

10 Feb 2009

“It was a major fireball. It exploded several times. All it took was 20 minutes before the whole thing was gone, and only the bones were left.

“It happened so fast.”

This was how Francois Vanvi, executive assistant manager – sales and marketing, Grand Millennium Beijing, described the conflagration that destroyed what would have been the Mandarin Oriental Beijing. It also rendered unusable one of the city’s architectural icons – the building, which housed a future hotel and cultural complex was designed by the celebrated Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas

Vanvi was one of many spectators who witnessed a display that surpassed the fireworks bombarding the city on the final day of the Lunar New Year celebration. From the various postings on You Tube and other social networking sites, the 34-storey structure appeared like one enormous Roman candle, spewing flames of 6 to 10m high and emitting horrific explosions for more than three hours, starting around 8.30pm and abating only around midnight.

Fortunately, the adjacent CCTV Tower, another of Beijing’s “trophy buildings”, was not affected.

Said to be on track for completion this summer, the Mandarin Oriental would have added to an already crowded hotel arena, swollen to unusual ranks by last year’s Olympic Games and Beijing’s relentless race to be crowned Hub of the Future. With sports fans gone and a gloomy financial horizon ahead, the market has grown even softer and a room glut is deepening.

The timing of the blaze coincided with what is traditionally one of the most joyous occasions in the Chinese calendar, and naturally, this caused comments of starting off the year with a bad omen.

But if there’s one thing owner CCTV and executives of the Mandarin Oriental chain can at least take comfort in, no one was in the building at the time and no one got hurt during the incident.

At deadline time, the fire department still did not issue an official statement for what had occurred, although the most popular explanation from the man on the street was stray fireworks.

First headline from Business Traveller Asia-Pacific on the incident appeared as news broke, please click here for the full report.

Margie T Logarta

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