National

Fierce winds fuel 140-building conflagration in Niigata; SDF called in to help

Kyodo

A fire stoked by strong winds consumed around 140 buildings in Itoigawa, Niigata Prefecture, on Thursday afternoon, prompting the city to issue an evacuation advisory and request help from the Self-Defense Forces.

About 740 people in around 360 households were advised to flee because the fire, which originated in a Chinese restaurant, showed no sign of waning even after sunset.

By 9 p.m., however, the blaze had been mostly extinguished, with two people injured by smoke inhalation, the prefectural government said.

The fire broke out Thursday morning in a shopping area near JR Itoigawa Station that was crowded with houses and aging stores. It may have consumed about 75,000 sq. meters of space, the city’s fire headquarters said.

Strong winds that started in the morning and continued all day exacerbated the fire, prompting the city at one point to issue a gale warning, a local meteorological observatory said.

The Niigata Prefectural Government set up a disaster response unit while the central government set up a crisis unit to collect information at the prime minister’s office.

Electricity and gas supplies have been suspended in the area hit by the fire.

According to the city, around 200 residents evacuated to a civic hall and elementary school pupils in an area close to the fire stayed in their classrooms.

“I saw my house was on fire from the evacuation bus. I didn’t think the fire would come that far,” one woman said, adding that she was unable to take along her late husband’s ashes.

Miyo Sawaguchi, an 82-year-old woman who lives about 200 meters from the Chinese restaurant, said she heard a loud sound and went outside only to find red flames.

A 19-year-old vocational college student who lives about 100 meters from the site said she was sleeping but woke up to the smell of something burning.

“Our neighbors alerted us and helped each other to escape. I don’t how much my place was burned,” she said.