Thirty-eight people were killed and two were injured in a fire at a factory in central China, state media said on Tuesday, with authorities blaming workers for illegal welding.

The fire broke out at a plant in Anyang city in Henan province on Monday afternoon, news agency Xinhua reported.

Rescue services first received reports of a fire at 4:22pm (0822 GMT) at Anyang Kaixinda Trading Co, Ltd, according to state media.

“After receiving the alarm, the municipal fire rescue detachment immediately dispatched forces to the scene,” state broadcaster CCTV said.

It added that the fire was extinguished by around 11pm local time.

Footage from the scene shared by CCTV showed thick plumes of black smoke from the fire, with at least two trucks in position to battle the flames.

In addition to the dead, two were sent to hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening, the state-run People’s Daily said.

Authorities said “criminal suspects” had been taken into custody in connection with the fire.

CCTV then reported, citing local officials, that a preliminary investigation had found the fire was caused by “electric welding in which workers violated safety measures”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a directive later on Tuesday, ordering officials to “go all-out in treating the injured … [and] strictly pursue accountability in accordance with the law”.

He added that officials must “comprehensively investigate and rectify hidden risks to firmly prevent and curb the occurrence of major accidents”, noting a recent string of accidents in Henan and neighbouring Shanxi province.

According to data provider Tianyancha, Anyang Kaixinda Trading Co is a wholesale trader dealing in machinery, building materials, non-hazardous chemicals, clothing and fire-fighting equipment.

Weak safety standards

Industrial accidents are common in China due to weak safety standards and corruption among officials tasked with enforcing them.

News of the Anyang fire followed reports of an explosion at a chemical factory in nearby Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province, on Monday.

Videos posted on social media showed a fire at the industrial site spewing dense grey smoke into the sky.

Other images showed nearby buildings strewn with shards of glass and frightened locals fleeing the blast.

“Personnel were dispatched to the scene, the fire was extinguished, and the human toll is not yet known,” Dahebao — an official daily based in Henan — reported on the Twitter-like Weibo platform, citing authorities.

In June, one person was killed and another injured in an explosion at a chemical plant in Shanghai.

And last year, a gas blast killed 25 people and reduced several buildings to rubble in the central city of Shiyan.

In 2015, a giant explosion in northern Tianjin at a chemical warehouse killed 165 people, in one of China’s worst-ever industrial accidents.

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