BEIJING (AP) — A large fire broke out at a poultry farm and processing plant in northeastern China early Monday, trapping workers inside large concrete buildings and killing at least 61 people, reports and officials said.
The fire in Jilin province's Mishazi township appeared to have been sparked by three early-morning explosions in the farm's electrical system, the official Xinhua News Agency said. State broadcaster CCTV quoted unidentified workers as saying the fire broke out during a change of shifts and may have originated in a locker room at a time when about 350 workers were at the site.
The provincial fire department said on its microblog that the fire was caused by a leak of ammonia.
The fire killed 61 people, according to a posting on the Jilin provincial government's official microblog. Calls to fire and rescue services rang unanswered and hospital administrators said they had no information about injuries among the dozens of people reportedly sent for treatment.
Rescue workers found the bodies in the charred buildings, and rescue efforts were continuing. CCTV footage showed dark smoke billowing up from the cement structures.
Xinhua quoted survivors as saying that the plant's "complicated" interior, narrow exits and a locked front gate made escape difficult.
The fire highlighted the lax safety standards at many Chinese workplaces. It could also focus renewed scrutiny on China's biggest pork producer, Shuanghui International — unrelated to the poultry plant — as it aims to buy U.S. food giant Smithfield in what would be China's biggest takeover of an American company.
The poultry plant's owner, Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Co., is a major producer of processed chicken and employs about 1,200 people. The plant is located outside the city of Dehui, about 800 kilometers (250 miles) northeast of China's capital, Beijing.