• Kyodo

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Three firefighters were killed and 10 others injured when a blazing house collapsed on them early Monday in Kobe’s Nishi Ward.

A body believed to be that of the sole resident of the house, Koshi Joren, a 51-year-old employee of a local junior high school, was later found in the rubble.

The second floor of Joren’s two-story wooden house gave way and fell on the 13 firefighters who had entered the first floor in a rescue attempt, police and fire officials said.

The three firefighters who died are Koji Okamoto, 30, Komei Yano, 28, and Yusuke Ishimaru, 23.

The fire, which destroyed the 150-sq.-meter house, started at around 12:20 a.m. The Kobe fire department sent some 200 firefighters and 55 fire engines to battle the blaze, which was extinguished about 2-1/2 hours after it erupted.

About 30 minutes after the fire broke out, a commander told the firefighters that someone was apparently on the second floor. The 13 firefighters reportedly entered the house right after that, believing the force of the fire had abated.

Three minutes later, one of the firefighters radioed from inside that he had found a male body. But two minutes after that, the second floor suddenly collapsed on the firefighters, and it took nearly an hour before all of the rescuers had been moved out of the debris, according to police investigating the scene.

Police suspect that the second floor gave way due to damage from the fire and the weight from the water sprayed to douse the blaze.

Hyogo Prefectural Police are investigating whether there was any problem in the commander’s judgment ordering his men to go inside the house at that point.

Joren lived alone in the house, which was more than 20 years old and located in a quiet neighborhood surrounded by rice paddies and vegetable plots about 1 km west of Kobe’s Gakuen Toshi subway station.

The firefighter fatalities were the highest since three firefighters were killed in August 1989 during a rescue operation at a landslide in Kawasaki.

One firefighter was killed last November in a fire in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, the last reported death of a firefighter prior to Monday’s fire in Kobe.

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