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Kyoto Anime studio quickly filled with smoke, gas hindering escape: fire dept. report

An image depicting a deadly fire at Kyoto Animation Co.'s 1st Studio in Kyoto's Fushimi Ward shows fire and smoke in the building 10 seconds after the blaze started. (From documents produced by the Fire and Disaster Management Agency's National Research Institute of Fire and Disaster)

KYOTO -- The second and third floors of Kyoto Animation Co.'s studio, which was badly damaged in a deadly arson attack in July, were filled with combustion gas up to 300 degrees Celsius only 60 seconds after the fire started, making it impossible for many people inside to escape, the local fire department said.

The Kyoto City Fire Department reported the outcome of its analysis on how employees and others inside Kyoto Animation Co.'s 1st Studio in the ancient capital's Fushimi Ward tried to escape to the Kyoto Municipal Assembly's General Affairs & Disaster Prevention Committee on Dec. 23.

Based on the analysis, the fire department will work out guidelines for evacuation in case of arson or an abnormal fire that makes it impossible for those inside affected buildings to escape in a normal way. The department intends to use the guidelines to instruct businesses on how to protect employees and others from blazes.

Workers set up a shield around Kyoto Animation Co.'s 1st Studio in the ancient capital's Fushimi Ward, which was badly damaged in a deadly arson attack, on Nov. 25, 2019, in preparation to pull it down. (Mainichi/Yoko Minami)

In the arson attack, 33 out of 70 people inside the building were unable to escape and a total of 36 people, including those who managed to escape, died.

The fire department analyzed how the 70 people tried to escape based on interviews with 34 survivors and a simulation of the fire conducted by the National Research Institute of Fire and Disaster, an affiliate of the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

According to the simulation, the suspect, 41-year-old Shinji Aoba, poured gasoline on the first floor near a spiral staircase, and used a cigarette lighter to ignite the gasoline. Only 10 seconds after the fire started, the staircase became unusable as an evacuation route because it was filled with fire and smoke. About 30 seconds later, another staircase leading from the second to third floors was filled with smoke, and visibility was lost in the staircase, preventing those on the third floor from going downstairs.

A minute after the fire started, the second and third floors were filled with combustion gas that was 100 to 300C as well as smoke. Some 1 1/2 minutes after the incident began, a penthouse containing a staircase leading to the rooftop was filled with smoke and the entire building was filled with combustion gas 30 seconds after that.

The first survivor escaped from the building several seconds after the fire started and the last one fled about seven minutes later.

Of 12 people who were on the first floor, five of them -- two who were unable to escape and three who managed to escape through the front door -- lost their lives.

Three people who took refuge in a first-floor women's restroom because they were scared of the arsonist shut the door, preventing smoke from flowing inside as a result. Workers outside removed window grating, allowing the three to be rescued within seven minutes after the fire broke out.

Out of 31 people on the second floor, 11 perished. Twenty others went to a balcony, and 18 then jumped to the ground while two others escaped using a ladder put in place by people in the neighborhood.

Only seven out of 27 people who were on the third floor escaped. Six of them went down to the second floor and jumped either from the balcony or through windows to the ground. The remaining one, who was desperate to breathe normally, poked their head through a window in a staircase and managed to get out after finding a ledge on the outer wall and went down through a ladder set up by people nearby.

The fire department assumes that the blaze started at around 10:31 a.m. on July 18. It received an emergency call at 10:33 a.m., and ordered firefighters to go into action two minutes later.

Firefighters brought the blaze under control at 6:20 a.m. the following day. The fire burned a total of 691 square meters of the three-story reinforced concrete structure.

The city fire department said it is determined to apply lessons learned from the incident to protect people's lives from blazes.

"We've learned a lot of lessons from this fire. In order to respond to Kyoto Animation employees' feelings, we're determined to make good use of the lessons learned to draw up guidelines to protect lives from all types of fires and make sure people evacuate safely while conducting further verification and analysis," a fire department official said.

(Japanese original by Satoshi Fukutomi, Kyoto Bureau)

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