KITAKYUSHU, FUKUOKA PREF. – The fire department at Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, admitted Wednesday that it was unaware an apartment building where a fire on Sunday claimed six lives was used for housing despite some of the victims having applied for welfare benefits through the same municipality.
The oversight by the fire department, which had not carried out any official fire alarm checks at the wooden, two-story complex, was revealed by city officials, exposing shortcomings in information sharing between municipal departments.
The occupants of the building’s 16 apartments were mostly day laborers and some welfare recipients.
The municipal government’s welfare division had regarded the apartment as a temporary housing facility for homeless people who were applying for benefits.
But the building was not subject to legally mandated, regular on-site inspections because the municipal fire department did not know people were living there.
A city official said case workers had visited the building repeatedly to interview welfare applicants, but the welfare division did not inform the fire department because its visits were not focused on fire prevention.
Under a local ordinance on fire safety inspections, the municipal government requires certain paperwork for buildings that function as apartments. However, no such documents exist for the building in question, which appears to have been constructed before the ordinance took effect in 1964, leaving the structure outside the purview of the fire department for inspections.
A total of 16 people lived in the apartment when the fire broke out at about 11:20 p.m. on Sunday. Five were hospitalized for treatment, while the safety of five others was later confirmed. The six victims, all likely male, failed to escape in time.
Autopsies show that all six who died in the fire burned to death, police said.
The police are investigating the cause of the fire, which also destroyed a neighboring residence and damaged another house and an apartment, with either carelessness or arson likely to blame, they said.
Occupants of the apartment reportedly changed frequently. An occupant said he had paid ¥9,000 in rent every 10 days to lease a unit. The real estate firm managing the apartments said the building was probably more than 60 years old.
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