The inferno at a row of bungalows at privately owned Kangleyuan Rest Home in Pingdingshan city in Lushan county, started at 7.33 p.m. on Monday, according to a statement issued by the provincial publicity office on Tuesday morning.
The six injured, two of whom are in serious condition, have been hospitalized, said the statement.
Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered “all-out efforts” to treat the injured, comfort families of the dead and “properly handle” the aftermath of the fire, Xinhua news agency reported. He demanded a thorough investigation into the cause of the fire.
Premier Li Keqiang also gave instructions, urging full efforts to rescue victims and console their family members. He called for officials to draw lessons from the accident, checking all potential safety hazards to avoid similar incidents.
The blaze swept through the complex, which is home to 51 senior citizens, before being put out at around 8.22 p.m.
The search and rescue operation involving hundreds of rescuers ended on Tuesday morning, said the statement.
“I was in my bed at the time. Suddenly, I saw a worker with the rest home run out of a room on fire and he shouted ‘Run! Run!’ to me, so I dashed out,” said 78-year-old Guo Xin.
The 130-bed rest home divides its residents into three groups and houses them in separate sections: those who can care for themselves, those who can partially care for themselves, and those who are completely dependent on caregivers, Xinhua learned from the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA).
The scorched units housed the third group.
“They are bedridden or rely on crutches. They can’t even eat by themselves,” Guo said.
Guo noted the “bad quality” of the burned dorms, which he said were “built with iron sheets and without foundations”.
Resident Chen Runsheng complained that the rest home lacked caregivers.
“You can’t find them at night,” said the 80-year-old man, who moved in two years ago.
Zhao Yulan, 82, said she was rescued from her room, which she shared with 11 people. “Only myself and one other roommate managed to get out,” she said.
The home’s legal representative is in police custody and all workers with the home have been taken away to cooperate with the police investigation. Relatives of the elderly were told to take them home.
Meanwhile, China’s fire department on Tuesday ordered a nationwide safety check after the horrific tragedy.
The fire department under the ministry of public security has urged an immediate check of nursing homes, welfare houses, kindergartens, child-care centres and hospitals across the country, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Local fire-fighters must ensure these centres have a sound system for safety with strict management of the use of fire and electricity.
Taking into account that most people at these venues lack the ability to take care of themselves and escape in an emergency, institutions should have proper warning and escape facilities and ensure that every person is accounted for. Regular drills will ensure timely evacuation in the event of accidents.
The ministry of civil affairs (MCA), which regulates rest homes, also ordered a check of food safety, sanitation, service standards and public security at these venues.