Circumstances of tragic Osaka fire should be uncovered and acted on

What happened at this multitenant building in a bustling district that was frequented by countless people? The police and fire authorities must clarify the entire picture of the incident, including the building’s fire prevention system.

A fire broke out in a psychosomatic clinic on the fourth floor of an eight-story building in Kita Ward, Osaka, shortly after 10 a.m. on Friday. It burned 25 square meters out of about 80 square meters and was almost extinguished in about 30 minutes.

Many men and women who were on the fourth floor were taken to hospital in a state of cardiac and respiratory arrest and were declared dead. The police are investigating the case and suspect arson, based on the circumstances at the scene.

A man carrying a paper bag reportedly came to the clinic and kicked the bag over, spilling out a liquid that then caught fire. The extent of the damage is staggering. If he started the fire on purpose, his act should never be forgiven.

Those who were killed and other victims were carried out from the fourth floor. The clinic opened at 10 a.m. and the fire is believed to have broken out right after that.

With the spread of the novel coronavirus, it is said that many people visit psychosomatic clinics, complaining of poor mental and physical health. Did the victims include people who came to the clinic that morning seeking help?

Eyewitnesses said the fire grew stronger with remarkable speed, and orange flames filled the fourth-floor window frames, sending black smoke up to the roof.

An expert said: “If the initial fire cannot be put out, an entire room will reach high temperatures in about 10 minutes. Because multitenant buildings often have few windows, there is a possibility that the victims might have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning due to insufficient air supply.”

Why did the fire, which burned an area of about 25 square meters and only took about 30 minutes to suppress, cause so much damage? It will also be important to clarify this point.

There have been fires in multitenant buildings that killed or injured many people in the past.

In 2001, a fire in a five-story building in the Kabukicho district of Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, killed a total of 44 people, including customers and workers. In 2008, a video-viewing establishment in a building in Naniwa Ward, Osaka, was set on fire and 16 customers were killed.

In the wake of the Kabukicho fire, the government revised the Fire Service Law and other legislation in 2002 and made it mandatory to install automatic fire alarm systems in small multitenant buildings as well. In 2006, the government required fire prevention managers of buildings to take a class on safety measures every five years.

However, many buildings across the country have been in violation of the law since then and there have been many cases in which the inadequacy of fire prevention systems has worsened the damage.

Toward the end of the year, bustling districts will be crowded with people and there might be an increase in the number of people eating and drinking in multitenant buildings. The latest fire should be used as an opportunity to strengthen inspections of such buildings across the country once again.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 18, 2021.