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Probe after 53 killed in blaze

Investigators are searching for the cause of a fire which engulfed a high-rise apartment building under renovation in China's business centre of Shanghai, killing 53 people and sending residents scrambling down scaffolding to escape.

The official Xinhua news agency cited a witness saying the blaze began when building materials had caught alight. The fire spread to scaffolding and then to the 28-storey apartment block itself, which houses a number of retired teachers, it said.

The government said more than 100 fire trucks were called to battle the blaze, which was largely put out about four hours later. Firefighters could be seen taking bodies from the building, while survivors were rushed away in ambulances. Other survivors were housed overnight in the gym of a nearby retirement home.

Xinhua said Tuesday that the death toll had risen to 53. It said more than 70 others had been rushed to hospitals.

Some residents escaped by climbing down scaffolding which had been put up for the renovations.

Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu, China's top policeman, called for an investigation into the cause of the fire. He said anyone responsible for the blaze would be punished by the law.

Survivors were taken to nine Shanghai hospitals, and a doctor at Jing'an Central Hospital said more than 20 seriously injured people had been admitted for treatment. Most of the survivors had suffered asphyxia from the smoke fumes, another doctor said.

The state-run news website Eastday.com cited a construction worker who escaped from the 28th storey as saying crews were installing energy-saving insulation when the fire occurred.

Chinese state media later report that unlicensed welders accidentally started the fire.

Police detained the four welders on criminal charges on Tuesday.

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