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Editorial: Cause of Osaka building fire that claimed many lives needs clarifying

A fire that broke out at a building in downtown Osaka has claimed the lives of many people and wounded others. Osaka Prefectural Police have launched an investigation into the case as suspected arson.

    While the fire was put out in about 30 minutes, it nevertheless left numerous casualties. It is imperative to unravel the cause of such extensive damage.

    According to the city's fire department, the blaze started at a psychosomatic clinic on the fourth floor of the eight-story multi-tenant building. It is highly likely that the victims were on the fourth floor at the time of the fire.

    The clinic has hosted a program to support patients' return to work, and about 20 people would take part in each session held in a large room. On the day of the fire, many patients were possibly gathered in the room to attend a session.

    According to an individual connected to the investigation, there is a witness account that a male patient of the clinic was carrying around flammable liquid with him. Authorities must swiftly identify the man and find out whether his actions had to do with the blaze.

    The question comes down to why the damage could not be controlled.

    During regular inspections of the building by the fire department, there were no deficiencies in its equipment such as fire extinguishers, automatic fire alarms and guide lights. If that's the case, were the means of evacuation including doorways and staircases secured sufficiently? Thorough investigations are called for over the issue.

    The building is located in the Kitashinchi entertainment district, which is crowded with many restaurants and bars. If the blaze had spread to other buildings, there could have been even further damage.

    The latest incident is not the first case in Japan in which a fire claimed the lives of many people inside a multi-tenant building located in an urban area, which is accessed by large numbers of unspecified people.

    In a suspected arson fire that occurred at a building in the Kabukicho entertainment district of Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward in September 2001, 44 people including customers and workers at a tenant died from carbon monoxide poisoning and other causes.

    Because large volumes of items were left in the aisles and on the staircases inside the building, the fire doors failed to shut, resulting in extensive damage.

    In the wake of the incident, the Fire Service Act and other regulations were amended. Even smaller multi-tenant buildings have since been required to install automatic fire alarms, among other beefed-up fire prevention measures. Regardless, damage from blazes at multi-tenant structures has not been entirely prevented.

    In the Osaka building fire, the lives of numerous people were lost in an instant after they were caught up in a sudden disaster. Authorities must elucidate the whole picture of the case, lest we repeat a similar tragedy again.

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