Fire departments in major cities nationwide announced Sunday they will launch safety inspections of 6,300 buildings to ensure that a deadly fire like the one in Tokyo that claimed 44 lives Saturday never happens again.

“We will examine some 4,000 buildings in Tokyo to check if these buildings are equipped with fire safety measures and evacuation routes,” said Shinji Nonaka, a spokesman for the Tokyo Fire Department. “If we find any deficiencies, we will immediately demand building managers improve fire safety measures,” he said.

Meanwhile, about 70 police officers and firefighters searched a building in a popular night spot in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward for clues as to what caused the early morning fire and explosion — the nation’s worst conflagration in three decades.

Fire departments in Tokyo, Osaka, and other big cities said the inspections would be launched today.

The Osaka Fire Department said it would inspect 2,000 buildings Monday, while the Nagoya Fire Department said it would check 307 buildings.

“I was shocked to learn that 44 people had died in the fire,” said Tadahiko Kimura, a spokesman for the Osaka Fire Department. “This could happen in Osaka, where there are some 9,000 buildings that house bars, restaurants and night-clubs.”

The Nagoya Fire Department said it would mobilize 210 officers for the inspections, which are expected to take a month to complete.

“After seeing the fire yesterday, we decided to inspect buildings in our districts as well,” an official from the department’s city fire bureau said. “We should never allow such a fire to occur again.”

Fire department officials from Fukuoka and Sapporo said they too wanted to inspect buildings as early as today.

“We will decide which buildings to be targeted for inspections today so that we can start doing so on Monday,” said an official from the Sapporo Fire Department.

“We take the fire in Tokyo very seriously. It is important we take every measure to prevent such a fire from happening again,” the official said.

The tragedy in the Kabukicho district was Japan’s worst fire disaster in nearly 30 years and the biggest in the capital since World War II. The nation’s worst post-war fire occurred in Osaka in 1972, when 118 people died at the Sennichi department store.

During Sunday’s investigation, searchers focused on the third floor of the four-story Meisei 56 Building in the Kabukicho entertainment district, where the fire is thought to have started.

They said the elevator door and the landing near the stairwell on the third floor, which housed a mah-jongg parlor, were severely damaged.

Two officials from Tokyo Gas Co. Ltd. also joined Sunday’s investigation. The company inspected a gas meter in the building in June, but found no fault.

An explosion and fire ripped through the building around 1 a.m. Saturday, killing 44 people and injuring three others. Firefighters managed to get the blaze under control at around 6 a.m.

A gas meter was found during Saturday’s investigation hanging from a badly damaged gas pipe, but it is still not known whether the detachment was caused by a blast from the fire or by something else, they said.

According to investigations, the building where the 44 people died in the mah-jongg parlor and a girlie bar had only one inside stairway and a small lift.

The building was also not fitted with emergency evacuation equipment such as ladders or a chute, fire officials said, adding that the owner had failed to submit proper fire prevention reports.

The blaze allegedly started near the landing, filling the third floor with smoke that quickly accumulated on other floors, they said. There was no sign, however, that the fire was accidental, leaving open the possibility that it was deliberately set.

“We are investigating the fire from every possibility including arson,” a police spokesman said.

Of the 44 victims — 32 men and 12 women — 43 had been identified by Sunday evening. Most died from carbon monoxide poisoning, police said.

Chirac mourns deaths

PARIS (Kyodo) French President Jacques Chirac on Saturday sent a letter to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi expressing condolences to the bereaved relatives of the 47 people killed and injured in a Tokyo fire, French presidential officials said.

In the letter, Chirac said he was shocked by the explosion in downtown Tokyo and expressed condolences to relatives of the victims, the officials said.

The explosion and fire at the four-story building in the Kabukicho entertainment district in Shinjuku, Tokyo, killed 44 people and injured three.

Chirac has visited Japan more than 40 times.