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In Pictures & Video: Firefighter killed as fire engulfs Beijing skyscraper

A firefighter was killed fighting a blaze that destroyed a 44-story luxury hotel being constructed as part of Beijing's frenetic Olympic makeover and next door to a landmark television headquarters in downtown Beijing, Chinese state media reported Tuesday.

The fire, which sent off huge plumes of black smoke and showered the ground with embers, was put out early Tuesday, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The blaze appeared to have started just after the building was showered with sparks from fireworks set off during Lunar New Year celebrations, Xinhua said.

A handful of other firefighters were injured along with a worker for China Central Television, it said.

The 159-meter (520-foot) Mandarin Oriental hotel, designed by Netherlands architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren, was part of a striking complex that helped transform the capital's skyline for last year's Olympics.

The hotel was just several hundred meters (yards) away from CCTV's landmark Z-shaped headquarters, a major prestige project for the government. The television headquarters was not damaged.

The hotel had been expected to be one of Beijing's most luxurious when it opened this year.

Initial investigations showed the fire was caused by firecrackers, Xinhua said, citing a spokesman for the Beijing government.

Beijing usually tightly restricts the use of fireworks downtown, but waives the rules each year during the Lunar New Year holiday. Monday was the final day for fireworks, marking the first full moon since the Lunar New Year, and massive barrages exploded in open spaces throughout the city.

It caught fire sometime before 9 p.m. as the skies were filled with fireworks.

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One onlooker, Li Jian, said he saw smoke rise from the hotel's roof shortly after a huge burst of fireworks showered it with sparks, though it was not clear if the sparks started the fire.

"Smoke came out for a little while, but then it just started burning," Li said.

People answering the phone at the Beijing fire department said they were unable to release any details.

At least seven fire crews were on the scene, and police closed a nearby elevated highway to ensure safety.

Crews had largely extinguished the larger flames about three hours after the fire began, although hot spots continued to flicker.

The hotel and the television tower were designed by Koolhaas and Scheeren for the firm OMA. Both were nearing the end of construction.

The fire destroyed years of hard work, said Erik Amir, a senior architect at OMA, who rushed to the site.

"I think it's really sad that this building is destroyed before it can be opened to the public," he said.

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