27 feared dead on suspicion of arson in office building in Japan

TOKYO – Twenty-seven people were feared dead in a fire Friday that burned through the fourth floor of a busy office building in downtown Osaka, the largest city in western Japan. Police investigated the possibility of arson.

The fire was first reported around 10.20am and was extinguished a little more than 20 minutes later. Rescue workers were seen carrying people out of the building on stretchers, the national television station, NHK reported. There was one survivor, the TV station said.

The fire burned an approximately 200 square meter area of ​​the eight-storey building, located next to the largest train station in the port city. On the fourth floor, where the fire is believed to have started, was a medical clinic specializing in internal medicine and psychiatry.

Police officials told NHK that a witness reported having seen, shortly before the fire started, a man in his 60s with a paper bag leaking liquid.

With the reports of possible arson, the fire immediately reminded of the fire in 2019 in an anime studio in Kyoto, another city in western Japan where an arsonist killed 33 people and injured dozens.

Before that, the last major fire occurred in a building in the center of a Japanese city two decades ago, in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. 44 people were killed as they tried to escape down a blocked staircase.

In a speech to NHK, Ai Sekizawa, an expert on fires at Tokyo University of Science, called Friday’s fire “shocking”.

“We do not know the details yet, but small buildings with multiple tenants sometimes have only one emergency staircase,” he said, adding that a fire near the exit could have led to death by suffocation or smoke inhalation as people tried to flee.

Hikari Hida contributed with reporting.

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