Police investigate companies over Osaka theater fire

OSAKA — Police searched the offices of Osaka Gas Co. and construction contractor Takenaka Corp. Thursday in connection with a September explosion and fire that burned down a closed historical theater in central Osaka.

Osaka Prefectural Police probed five locations on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in fire and injuries, though they did not name specific suspects.

The Sept. 9 fire erupted at the run-down Nakaza Theater, in the Dotonbori district in Naka Ward, injuring four people, some seriously, including workers involved in demolition work at the time.

Investigators said they believe the workers were using a map showing the wrong layout of gas pipes and failed to ensure safety at the site.

On Thursday, police confiscated manuals that were used to remove gas pipes from the demolition site and related work contracts.

According to police, workers proceeded to remove underground gas pipes without noticing that gas was escaping from a ruptured pipe. An explosion occurred at around 3:10 a.m., injuring two workers.

Two firefighters were also injured, but police said the firms involved in the demolition will not be held liable for their injuries.

The police said they have yet to pinpoint the cause of the explosion. However, a worker who was at the site told police the explosion took place when someone lit a lighter in a boiler room to look for a flashlight.

Police have recovered a lighter and a flashlight from the boiler room.

The fire also hit an adjacent area of about 3,000 sq. meters. Some 20 restaurants along the famous Hozenji Yokocho avenue were gutted.

The theater was established in 1653. The building that burned down was built in 1948.

Movie distributor Shochiku Co. closed the theater in 1999.