A fire on Thursday engulfed at least 140 buildings in Itoigawa, Japan. The inferno injured, by varying reports, at least eight people.
The coastal town in the northern prefecture of Niigata’s many traditional wooden buildings burned easily, fanned by winds of 56kph (35mph). Narrow streets hampered firefighters. “Sparks of fire flew around,” one local resident recounted to Japanese public broadcaster NHK. “That’s why far away buildings unexpectedly caught fire and it became large-scale. I’ve never seen something like this before.”
The national Fire and Disaster Management Agency said the fire started at a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant’s owner yesterday told police he left a stove on and stepped outside. Police said the man told them “I feel deeply sorry for what I’ve done,” and said he went home, returning to find a pot aflame.
Hundreds of residents were evacuated, with 40,000 square metres (about ten acres) of city burning. The fire broke out at around 10:30am local time in a shopping area near the city’s primary train station. It was brought under control by around 8:30pm. Firefighters were assisted by Self-Defence Forces troops brought in at the request of Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama.
“We will do our utmost effort in supporting those affected”, Yoneyama said yesterday as he inspected the disaster scene. Firefighters remained wary yesterday that ongoing high winds could reignite the charred ruins. Local authorities have begun consulting residents on assistance.
Emperor Akihito paused during his 83rd birthday celebrations to offer condolences. “Many people had to be evacuated in the cold weather. I hope their health will not suffer,” he said from his Tokyo palace.
Two women in their 40s suffered minor injuries, one via smoke inhalation and one by falling and hitting her head. At least five firefighters also sustained minor injuries. The fire was Japan’s worst non-natural blaze for twenty years. Smoke rose about 300m (roughly a thousand feet) as rescuers worked to contain it. Seventeen fire trucks responded.
Itoigawa is home to around 44,500 people. It faces the Sea of Japan. The mixed neighbourhood features both homes and shops. One local official said it is suspected the timing of the fire led to many residents being out of harm’s way.