“The driver couldn’t see the road ahead,” he said.
Kevin Ye, an employee at a Porsche showroom across the street from the Starbucks, said he saw the van hit a tree in front of the shop. “I immediately heard a woman screaming and saw people inside of the Starbucks trying to rush out,” he said.
The fire was extinguished quickly, and it did not appear that any of the canisters exploded.
Firefighters retrieved three or four fuel canisters from the burned van, Mr. Ye said.
Video posted online showed firefighters dousing flames from a gray van as injured people lay on the sidewalk.
Some local news reports disappeared from their websites shortly after they were published, an indication that government censors may have ordered them removed.
Before the police indicated that the crash was an accident, images of the flaming van and injured pedestrians stirred concerns of a deliberate attack. China has a history of aggrieved citizens using vehicles or explosions to vent their anger at the authorities.
In 2013, five people died and dozens more were injured in downtown Beijing after a speeding vehicle bowled along a crowded sidewalk and burst into flames near the Forbidden City. In 2009, three people set themselves and their car on fire at Wangfujing, a shopping street just east of Tiananmen Square, in what was described as a protest over land seizures.
Starbucks is a major presence in China, where it has opened more than 500 locations a year, creating some 10,000 jobs in the country annually. There are at least 600 shops in Shanghai alone.