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Fire Damages Oldest Building at Tsinghua

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A blaze engulfed a 99-year-old building at Tsinghua University, one of China's leading seats of learning in Beijing, early on Saturday. No casualties were reported.

The fire broke out at about 1 am at "Tsinghua College", a German-style building that spreads across 800 square meters, and was put out at 3:15 am, said officials of the fire brigade with the Beijing public security bureau.

The college building's front stonewall is intact but the ceiling has collapsed and many walls have been damaged.

The "Tsinghua College", from which developed the current Tsinghua University, was built in 1911 and is now considered a historical site with State-level protection.

As firefighters struggled to put out the blaze, students, professors and even alumni kept pouring in to pay a visit to the scene.

"It (the building) is a great symbol of the university's architecture. My husband and I even had our wedding photos taken in front of it," said a 27-year-old woman surnamed Liu, who, along with her husband, graduated from the university's automation department in 2005.

"The news of the fire was shocking. We were planning to revisit the university during the coming centennial celebration," she said.

According to the spokesman for the university's news center, the main body of the building remains intact and the renovation of the building is expected to be finished in time for the centenary celebrations in April 2011.

Fang Hongrong, 32, who studied in the department of engineering mechanics between 1998 and 2008, drove two hours to get a glimpse of the building when he heard the news of the fire. "I was surfing the Internet when I read the news. I didn't believe it till I reached here," he said.

"I feel sad," said a 67-year-old professor and ex-student, who did not wish to be named. "I still remember the days when we used to study in this very building - the sunlight creeping in through the massive windows, the sound of people walking on the wooden floor."

The "Tsinghua College" building, which stands adjacent to several buildings where classes are held, had been under renovation for the centenary celebrations since August.

The police are investigating the cause and the damage is currently being assessed.

"Many old buildings in the university are under repair for the centennial celebrations. The projects are complicated and the workers are on a deadline, which is nearing," Huang Weixi, a student of the university's school of art and design, said, adding she was afraid more such accidents may occur due to human error.

(China Daily November 15, 2010)

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