BEIJING — More than 4,500 shoe factories in the eastern Chinese city of Wenling have been closed for safety violations after a fire at a local manufacturer killed 16 people in January, state-run media outlets reported.

The January 14th blaze at the Taizhou Dadong factory killed six men and ten women and was probably caused by faulty wiring, according to local media. Wenling produces more than a billion pair of shoes a year, many of which of which are for export.

The Taizhou Dadong factory owners were arrested and the local government vowed to crackdown on shoddy safety practices to prevent a similar incident.

A city-wide inspection of its 6,000 shoe factories showed many to be overcrowded, lacking fire exits and devoid of firefighting equipment, the Chinese media quoted a Wenling government spokesperson as saying.

Local factory owners have described the closures as heavy handed and arbitrary. Several thousand of them gathered outside the local government’s offices last week to protest, resulting in the arrest of 48 people.

“We’ve been in this business for decades and now the government wants to shut us down just because of this fire. They haven’t given us any plan B or any information about the future,” a man called Mr. Yuan was quoted by the state news agency Xinhua as saying.

The Wenling government claims it does not want to shut down the shoe-making business, merely make it safer. Companies who are found to be in violation of the healthy and safety laws can reopen once they have rectified the problems, media reported.

The issue for factory owners is time. With so many factories applying for re-assessment, it might be weeks before they reopen.

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