Police in a southern Chinese city say a fire at a three-storey building has killed 18 people and injured five others.

They say the blaze was likely caused by arson.

The public security bureau of Qingyuan City in Guangdong province said police received a call around half-past midnight local time about the fire.

It said on its official account on the microblog site Sina Weibo that police, fire, health and other departments sent rescuers to the site and that the fire was put out at 12.55 am.

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AFP reports the fire tore through a karaoke lounge.

Police say that according to preliminary investigations, the fire was caused by arson and that authorities were stepping up investigations.

China suffers frequent deadly fires and industrial accidents, often blamed on negligence.

Last year, police arrested a man suspected of setting fire to a two-storey house in eastern China, killing 22 people.

At that time, investigators discovered traces of gasoline at the scene of the pre-dawn fire in Jiangsu province and found all the doors of the house locked.

-AP