SHANGHAI, China — A rush-hour bus packed with Shanghai commuters caught fire Monday, killing three people and injuring at least 12, and authorities blamed a passenger carrying unspecified “flammable materials.”
The accident came as China tightened security precautions ahead of the Olympic Games in Beijing, issuing a ban on carrying dangerous articles including explosives near the capital’s Tiananmen Square, and allowing for spot inspections of people and vehicles.
The three died when the No. 842 bus in Yangpu district in northern Shanghai caught fire at about 9 a.m. (0100 GMT), Shanghai police said in a brief statement on their Web site.
It said a passenger carrying flammable materials caused the fire, but did not explain why or give any further details. State media reports gave conflicting information, with the official Xinhua News Agency saying the fire followed an explosion. But bystanders said they did not hear any blast before the bus erupted in flames.
Police put the number of passengers injured at 12, although a report on the Web site of the local state-run newspaper, Liberation Daily, said more than 20 were hurt.
Xinhua said firefighters estimated about 50 passengers were on the bus at the time.
The Liberation Daily report and a local witness said some passengers were trapped because the air-conditioned bus had windows that could not be opened and at least one door was stuck shut.
“People could not get the middle door open, so only a few escaped unhurt through the front door,” said the bystander, who just missed getting on the bus for his morning commute.
“It seemed strange that the bus burned up so fast. The steel plates on the top and bottom were quickly ruined,” said the man, who like many cautious Chinese would only give his surname, Zhou.
The Liberation Daily report showed the blackened bus, its roof appearing partly blown open, stopped at the side of the road.
By late morning, the scene of the fire had been completely cleared of debris.
Staff at the headquarters of the Dazhong Transportation offices said officials responsible for speaking to media were not available for comment.