BEIJING — A massive fire Monday night heavily damaged a new high-rise building that's part of one of Beijing's most eye-catching architectural wonders, the iconic headquarters of China Central Television.
Flames licked up all sides of the 521-foot tower, which houses the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and is part of a complex that includes the new CCTV headquarters. Hundreds of people milled about watching firefighters shoot torrents of water at the blaze.
The fire struck amid festivities and thundering fireworks in the capital to mark the end of the Lunar New Year holiday, China's most important annual celebration, which closed with Monday evening's Lantern Festival.
The cause of the fire was unknown, but the official news agency, Xinhua, cited a witness who said the "fire apparently started at about 8:25 p.m., when firecrackers fell on the top of the building." It said that police couldn't immediately confirm that account. It wasn't clear whether there were any casualties.
Spectators said they were awestruck by the massive fire.
"It was in flames like a torch," said Annukka Sarikka, a Finnish woman who pulled out her mobile phone to show a passer-by a video she took of the blaze. "It's completely destroyed."
"It was unbelievable," said Jill Young, from Quad Cities, Ill., who came to the scene after seeing news of the fire on local television. "The whole back side was in flames."
The fire halted traffic on a section of the third ring road, one of Beijing's main thoroughfares, and drew throngs of curious onlookers.
Still under construction, the CCTV headquarters has a startling and unforgettable angular design that's become a symbol of Beijing's modernity. It comprises two high-rise towers that lean together and seem to embrace some 40 stories above ground. The design by architects Rem Koolhaas, a Dutchman, and Ole Scheeren, a German, quickly became known as the "twisted doughnut" and "short pants" because of its unique structure.
The hotel tower is to the north of the CCTV headquarters, which the blaze didn't appear to affect.
Xinhua said the Mandarin Oriental Hotel wasn't scheduled to open until later this year but that the building had been used during the Olympic Games last summer. It said that witnesses saw some lights on in the hotel as the blaze erupted.
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