It was Friday, and a time to loosen up, so they patronize the hotel to have fun and enjoy themselves.

But at least 18 of them lost their lives inside the hotel, with 19 others left injured.

The blaze broke out during the night at the China hotel in Harbin, capital of the northeastern Heilongjiang province, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"By the latest count, 18 people have been found dead and 19 have been taken to hospital," the agency said, citing local authorities.

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Images of the gutted hotel and spa appeared on state broadcaster CCTV, showing blackened walls, twisted metal structures and parts of the ceiling hanging precariously.

Those hospitalised had inhaled toxic smoke or suffered burns, CCTV said, adding that an investigation is underway into the cause of the fire.

Deadly fires are common in China, where fire security regulations are routinely neglected.

In April, 18 people were killed and five more injured in a fire at a karaoke establishment in the country's south.

In November, a fire left 19 people dead and eight injured at a boarding house in Beijing. And in May 2015, 38 people were found dead in a fire at a retirement home in central Henan province.

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