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Fire destroys ancient town in China

– A fire that raged for nearly 10 hours Saturday razed an ancient Tibetan town in southwest China that’s popular with tourists, burning down hundreds of buildings as fire engines were unable to get onto the narrow streets, state media and witnesses said.

There was no immediate report of casualties, and the cause of the fire was unclear. State media, citing local authorities, said the blaze started in a guesthouse and was ruled accidental.

The fire broke out at 1:27 a.m. in the ancient Tibetan quarter of Dukezong, which dates back more than 1,000 years and is known for its preserved cobbled streets, ancient structures and Tibetan culture.

Once called Gyaitang Zong, the county in 2001 renamed itself Shangri-La, hoping to draw tourists by the reference to the mythical Himalayan land described in James Hilton’s 1933 novel. Like hundreds of Chinese cities and counties, Shangri-La renovated its old neighborhood, Dukezong, turning it into a tourist attraction filled with shops and guesthouses.

The fire destroyed about 242 houses and shops in Dukezong, dislocated more than 2,600 people, and torched many historic artifacts, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

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