Police search house of man linked to fire that killed 24 in Osaka building

Japanese police have searched the house of one of the patients at a mental clinic where a fire gutted an entire floor in an eight-storey building, killing 24 people trapped inside.

An Osaka police investigator told the Associated Press the man is a possible suspect.

A small fire broke out at the man’s house about half an hour before the bigger blaze, the investigator said.

The building in central Osaka (Chisato Tanaka/AP) (AP)

He is believed to be among the three people who survived and were in severe condition. Police have not arrested anyone, and it may take a while until the man recovers enough to be questioned.

Witnesses told Japanese media a man walked into the clinic in central Osaka, carrying a paper bag, which he put on the floor, next to a heater by the reception desk, and kicked it. A liquid poured out and caught fire.

Accounts suggested the victims gasped for air and struggled to find their way out of the clinic inside the building. There was only one way to escape because the lift and emergency stairs were outside the clinic, authorities said.

Police and fire officials on Saturday returned to the site in the middle of Osaka’s main business section of Kitashinchi.

Investigators enter the building (Kyodo News/AP) (AP)

Some experts were surprised by the death toll in a daytime fire that was largely put out within an hour. Authorities are investigating how the smoke filled the floor so quickly and the victims became trapped.

There was no prior violation of fire prevention codes at the building, officials said.

There was no emergency exit in the clinic. The office had several compartments for consultations and workshops along one aisle, with the main counselling room at the far end.

One of the visitors who witnessed the beginning of the fire was able to run out. It is not yet known how many people were inside the clinic, the investigator said.

Flowers and drinks left at the scene (Chisato Tanaka/AP) (AP)

Osaka residents brought flowers, bottled water and canned drinks as offerings to the spirits of the departed outside the building.

A sign advertising the burned-out clinic on the fourth floor still stood: “Nishi Umeda clinic for the mind and body of workers.”

More than 70 fire engines and ambulances took part in extinguishing the blaze on Friday morning. Firefighters initially found 27 people in a state of cardiac arrest, including three who were resuscitated in hospital, according to the Osaka city fire department.

One woman was brought down by an aerial ladder from a window on the sixth floor.

Some of the clinic’s clients who spoke to Japanese media said the clinic was popular and was always crowded with up to 20 people waiting, especially on Fridays when special counselling and programmes were available for those preparing to return to work after sick leave.

The clinic’s psychiatrist, Kotaro Nishizawa, has not been reached since the fire.

In 2019 at the Kyoto Animation studio, an attacker stormed into the building and set it on fire, killing 36 people and injuring more than 30 others.

In 2001, an intentionally set blaze in Tokyo’s Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people — the country’s worst known case of arson in modern times.

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