A fire that ripped through a hospital in Japan yesterday as patients slept killed 10 elderly people and prompted government demands for safety reviews across the nation.
The blaze, which broke out in the middle of the night, left a further five people injured, police said, with the fire and disaster management agency saying four of them were in serious condition.
Video footage aired on public broadcaster NHK showed firefighters surrounding the hospital in the city of Fukuoka, as smoke poured from the front entrance of the partially gutted building. Dark streaks of soot were smeared across the second floor windows.
“We have confirmed the deaths of 10 people — eight in-patients and two hospital workers,” a local police spokesman said.
The two hospital workers were a former hospital director and his wife, police later said.
All of those who died were between the ages of 70 and 89, police said.
The fire raged for about two hours, having started at 2:20am at the four-story building, which opened as an orthopedic hospital in 1970.
The hospital has 19 beds, with suites for orthopedics, rheumatism and rehabilitation.
Hospital staff lived on the top floor, a local fire station official said.
“We did our best in fire fighting to save lives ... but it was a difficult situation,” a fire station official told a hastily arranged press conference.
“We received news of the fire at a very late stage, and there had been no attempt [by staff] to tackle the fire in its early stages,” he said.
“Patients on the second and third floors were exposed to a lot of smoke because fire doors that would have stemmed the flow had been left open,” he said.
“We will start an investigation” into the cause of the fire, the official said.
Another fire station official said that the fire appeared to have begun somewhere on the ground floor, but he did not know the specific place or cause of the fire.
“We first received the report of a fire after a nurse who was inside the hospital rushed out and asked a taxi driver to make an emergency call,” he added.
Local media reported the fire may have started at a treatment room that had a laser device and thermal therapy equipment that used a water boiler.
Hours after the tragedy, Japan’s fire and disaster management agency issued administrative guidance to fire headquarters nationwide that officials check hospitals to ensure medical organizations are prepared for nighttime fires.
It also sent seven officials to the scene to probe the cause of the disaster, an agency spokesman said.
NHK quoted a firefighter as saying the building was already belching flames and smoke when fire engines arrived.
Private broadcaster TV Asahi said that about 20 fire trucks had attended the blaze.
Latest television footage showed dozens of police and fire department officials conducting on-site investigations.