Suspected arson in downtown Osaka building leaves 24 dead

Japan_Fire_65362 Rescuers gather in front of a building where a fire broke out in Osaka, western Japan Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. Japan's NHK says a fire broke out in the building and dozens of people were feared dead.
Japan_Fire_44893 Firefighters and police officers investigate a building in a major business, shopping and entertainment district hours after a deadly fire in Osaka, western Japan, Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. More than 20 people were feared dead after a fire broke out Friday in a building in Osaka, officials said, and police were investigating arson as a possible cause.
Japan_Fire_56300 Onlookers gather outside an eight-story building where a fire broke out earlier Friday in Osaka, western Japan, on Dec. 17, 2021. More than 20 people were feared dead after a fire broke out Friday in a building in Osaka in western Japan, officials said, and police were investigating arson as a possible cause.
Japan_Fire_51330 First responders carry a stretcher after a deadly fire at an eight-story building in a major business, shopping and entertainment district in Osaka, western Japan, Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. More than 20 people were feared dead after the fire broke out Friday in the building in Osaka, officials said, and police were investigating arson as a possible cause.
Japan_Fire_52481 A police officer stands watch as firefighters and other police officers investigate the scene of a deadly fire at an eight-story building in a major business, shopping and entertainment district in Osaka, western Japan, Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. More than 20 people were feared dead after the fire broke out Friday in the building in Osaka, officials said, and police were investigating arson as a possible cause.
Japan_Fire_39270 A firefighter looks out from a window on the fourth floor of an eight-story building following a deadly fire in a major business, shopping and entertainment district in Osaka, western Japan, Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. More than 20 people were feared dead after the fire broke out Friday in the building in Osaka, officials said, and police were investigating arson as a possible cause.
Japan_Fire_73097 Firefighters and police officers investigate the scene of a deadly fire at an eight-story building in a major business, shopping and entertainment district in Osaka, western Japan, Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. Multiple people were feared dead after the fire broke out Friday in the building in Osaka, officials said, and police were investigating arson as a possible cause.
Japan_Fire_26603 Policemen and firefighters gather near a building where a fire broke out in Osaka, western Japan Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. Dozens of people are feared dead after a fire broke out in the building, fire department officials said Friday.
Japan_Fire_01212 Fire engines park near a building, center in the background, where a fire broke out in Osaka, western Japan Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. Dozens of people are feared dead after a fire broke out in the building, fire department officials said Friday.
Japan_Fire_74711 Rescuers attend to victims following a fire at a building in Osaka, western Japan Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. Dozens of people are feared dead after a fire broke out in the building, fire department officials said Friday.
Japan_Fire_10722 Fire engines park near a building where a fire broke out in Osaka, western Japan Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. Dozens of people are feared dead after a fire broke out in the building, fire department officials said Friday.
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OSAKA, Japan (AP) — A fire that spread from a fourth-floor mental clinic in an eight-story building in downtown Osaka in western Japan on Friday left 24 dead in what police were investigating as a possible case of arson and murder.

Police were searching for a man in his 50s to 60s who witnesses saw carrying a paper bag from which an unidentified liquid was dripping. He may have been among the 24 dead, or is one of the three people who were resuscitated and remain in serious conditions, or may have fled, a police investigator said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

Fire officials who reached the building in the major business, shopping and entertainment area of Kitashinchi in Osaka found 27 people in a state of cardiac arrest, said Osaka fire department official Akira Kishimoto.

One woman was conscious and brought down by an aerial ladder from a window on the sixth floor and was being treated in a hospital, he said. Later Friday, 24 people were pronounced dead, the fire department said.

In Japan, the authorities customarily describe those without vital signs as being in “shinpai teishi,” or a state of cardiac and pulmonary arrest, and do not confirm deaths until they are pronounced at hospitals and other necessary procedures are done.

A doctor at one of the hospitals treating the victims said he believed many of them died after inhaling carbon monoxide as they had limited external injuries. Police said the cause of deaths could not be determined until the bodies were autopsied.

One of clients said the clinic was popular and was always crowded with 15-20 people waiting, especially on Fridays when special counselling and programs were available for those preparing to return to work after taking a sick leave, NHK said.

Authorities are investigating a possibility that the smoke filled the floor so quickly that the victims had no time to escape, Nippon Television said.

Hours later Friday night, crowds were still gathering outside of the building to take a glimpse of the scene where firefighters and police officers were investigating.

“I haven’t heard of the cause but I’m shocked and wondering why someone would do this,” said Yuji Uehara, who works for a finance company. “I also offer my condolences to those who died.”

The building houses the mental and internal medicine clinic, an English language school and other businesses. Most of the victims are believed to be visitors at the clinic on the fourth floor, fire officials said.

Osaka police earlier said they were working to determine whether the fire was caused by arson. They later set up a team at the prefectural police headquarters, a sign they strongly suspect arson and murder.

According to NHK, a female outpatient at the clinic’s reception desk saw the man being sought by police. Another person nearby said the fire started soon after he put the leaky bag next to a stove on the floor and kicked it, with more of the liquid pouring out.

The clinic’s psychiatrist, Kotaro Nishizawa, could not be reached since the fire, NHK said. It quoted his father as saying the doctor hinted at a problem at the clinic but did not elaborate.

People on other floors of the building were safely evacuated, fire officials said.

NHK quoted a witness as saying she heard a woman’s voice coming from the fourth floor calling for help. Another witness told TV Asahi he saw flames and smoke coming out of windows on the fourth floor when he stepped outside after hearing a commotion.

In total, 70 fire engines were mobilized to fight the fire, which was fully extinguished more than six hours later, officials said.

In 2019 at the Kyoto Animation studio, an attacker stormed into the building and set it on fire, killing 36 people and injuring more than 30 others. The incident shocked Japan and drew an outpouring of grief from anime fans worldwide. In 2001, an intentionally set blaze in Tokyo’s Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people — the country’s worst known case of arson in modern times.

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Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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