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SHORT CIRCUIT BLAMED IN DEADLY THEATER FIRE

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A tragic fire that killed at least 300 schoolchildren and teachers in a movie theater in remote northwestern China was caused when sparks from an electrical short circuit ignited flammable stage curtains and quickly spread into the crowded hall, officials said here Friday.

A spokesman for the State Council, the Chinese central governing body, said most of the 300 victims of the Thursday night fire in the Friendship Hall cinema in Karamay, an oil boom town in Xinjiang Province, died of burns and suffocation. More than 100 persons were seriously injured and undergoing treatment at the Karamay Crude Oil General Hospital.It was China's second major fire disaster in two weeks. A Nov. 27 fire at a dance hall in Liaoning Province claimed 233 lives, most of them students. The two fires were the most serious to hit China since 1979.