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Ex-noodle shop owner gets 3-year suspended sentence over massive fire

The site of a massive fire in Itoigawa, Niigata Prefecture, is seen the day after the blaze, on Dec. 23, 2016. (Mainichi)

NIIGATA, Japan (Kyodo) -- A former ramen noodle shop owner was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison, suspended for five years, for leaving his shop with a gas burner on in December 2016, resulting in a massive fire that engulfed 147 buildings.

    Presiding Judge Kenichi Ishida of the Niigata District Court gave the suspended prison term to Kenkazu Shu, 73, saying it was due to strong winds that the blaze spread to a wide area in Itoigawa, a city on the Sea of Japan coast.

    However, "(The defendant) failed to perform a basic duty and this should have not happened," Ishida said in the ruling at the Takada branch of the district court.

    According to the ruling, Shu returned to his home without turning off a stove on which he had placed a pot in his ramen store in Itoigawa, Niigata Prefecture, on Dec. 22. The ingredients in the pot caught fire and as the blaze spread neighboring shops and houses over a total area of about 30,000 square meters were burned.

    The fire forced hundreds of residents to evacuate. Of the 147 affected buildings, 120 were completely burned down, five were half destroyed and 22 were partly damaged. There were no human casualties.

    During Shu's first trial in September, prosecutors claimed the former owner was "too careless as someone who is operating a restaurant," but his defense counsel said "it was the wind that made it easy for the fire to spread."

    The defendant pleaded guilty and apologized during the trial, saying, "I am sorry for causing a great trouble."

    The prosecutors had demanded a three-year prison term for Shu.

    After the ruling, the judge said, "Many people are putting in efforts to revive the city. I want you to think what you can do in return for the people and the city of Itoigawa."

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