Photos and video footage showed Dukezong and its labyrinth of houses engulfed in flames that turned the night sky red.
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.
He Yu, a resident, said she woke to loud, explosion-like sounds to find the old town on fire.
“The fire was huge,” she said. “The wind was blowing hard, and the air was dry. I was scared because my home is a little distance away from the ancient town. It kept burning, and the firefighters were there, but there was little they could do because they could not get the fire engines onto the old town’s narrow streets.” [Source]
The Baltimore Sun has posted a slideshow of photos of the fire.
On his blog, travel writer Chris Taylor, who has spent time in the area around Dukezong (also known as Zhongdian), writes that descriptions of the town as “ancient” are not accurate and that much of the part that burned had in fact been reconstructed as a tourist attraction:
The blaze is undoubtedly a tragedy, but Zhongdian—which won a nationwide bid for the title of Shangri-la from the State Council of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 2001—is home to little that is authentically Tibetan or “ancient.”
A reference to the lost-in-the-mountains paradise of James Hilton’s 1937 Lost Horizon—one the world’s first best-selling “penny paperbacks”—Yunnan’s Shangri-la was largely built after being rechristened as Shangri-la in 2001.
[…] During visits to Shangri-la, I heard repeatedly that monks at the “renovated monastery” “worked” nine-to-five, and were as likely to be Han Chinese as Tibetan—preferably the former. I also heard that most of the heritage buildings that were still standing in 2001 were derelict, and attempts from certain quarters to rehabilitate and preserve them lost out—more often than not—to the imperatives of a drive to attract tourism traffic to the newly renamed, and suitably renovated old town. [Source]