Incense Blamed for One of Two Deadly China Fires

Smoldering incense left inside a bamboo temple as offerings to the gods was probably responsible for one of two deadly fires that killed at least 93 people in China over the weekend, authorities said on Monday.

The temple fire killed 40 women in Wufeng village in eastern Zhejiang province, while 53 people died when a blaze roared through a crowded shopping mall in Jilin, some 1,000 miles farther northeast.

Police arrested a man they said had organized the prayer session in the thatched, bamboo hut, which was less than 650 square feet, Xinhua said.

Police and state media said the villagers were engaging in "superstitious activities" -- banned after the Communists took power in 1949 and cracked down on an array of beliefs, including traditional folk religions common in the vast countryside.

In Wufeng, site of the temple fire, a local government official said investigators suspected the blaze was caused by incense offerings.

But it was not the final conclusion and Yan Caihong, a resident of Qunle village about 10 miles away, said by telephone that it may have been caused by smoldering cigarette.

"The fire was caused by a woman smoking cigarettes outside. She's still alive," Yang told Reuters.

State television said six people were injured in the fire, which razed the structure. The official Xinhua news agency said one of the injured died on Monday, bringing the death toll to 40.

TV footage showed clothing strewn on the charred ground and investigators combing the site at night behind a cordon.

Authorities were also investigating further the cause of the fire that swept through the shopping mall in Jilin Sunday, killing 53 people and injuring 71.

Many people, bundled in thick coats against the sharp cold, jumped from top floors of the four-story building, witnesses said. Wooden boards that were used to carry the dead and injured later lay strewn around the shopping center, wet with blood.

Most of the victims were customers enjoying baths and billiard games on the upper floors of the shopping center that had 111 shops and covered around 4,000 square yards.