Night fire destroys ancient Tibetan town in China

January 11, 2014

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Firefighters work on roofs of buildings while a fire ravages ancient Dukezong town in Shangri-la county, in southwestern China's Yunnan province, Saturday, Jan 11, 2014. — Photo by AP
Firefighters work on roofs of buildings while a fire ravages ancient Dukezong town in Shangri-la county, in southwestern China's Yunnan province, Saturday, Jan 11, 2014. — Photo by AP

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 town 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.

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

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.