A van ploughed into pedestrians after veering onto a crowded sidewalk in a busy area of central Shanghai on Friday (Feb 2), leaving at least 18 people injured, three of them seriously, city authorities said.
The incident occurred at People's Park in the heart of the city around 9am, when crowds of residents would have been on their way to work.
According to preliminary investigations, the fire was caused by a 40-year-old driver surnamed Chen who was smoking a cigarette inside the vehicle, the Shanghai public security bureau said on its official Weibo feed.
Chen, who is currently receiving treatment, is suspected of illegally transporting dangerous substances, police said.
Zhang Sai, a security guard at an adjacent building, told AFP the van was on fire when it veered out of control and jumped the curb, striking some pedestrians and sending others scurrying to get out of the way.
"It happened around 8.50 am. The van was on fire before it crashed on the sidewalk," he said.
Amateur video clips circulating on Chinese social media showed several people sprawled on the pavement and receiving medical treatment from fire and rescue personnel.
Other images that circulated on state-run social media platforms showed a fire burning inside the van, which had come to a stop in front of a tree after apparently striking some fencing near the entrance to a Starbucks cafe.
A Shanghai-based Starbucks spokesman told Reuters the store was not damaged and its customers and employees were safe.
"The store is currently closed and we will assist the authorities in their investigations," he said.
Some bystanders tried to break the window of the vehicle and drag out the six people in the vehicle, including the driver, news portal The Paper said.
Other witnesses said there were gas cylinders in the vehicle.