Death toll from Akita apartment building blaze rises to five

Kyodo

The Akita Prefectural Police on Wednesday discovered another body following a fire that engulfed a two-story wooden apartment building in the city of Yokote early Tuesday, bringing the death toll to five.

The police believe all the people killed in the blaze were residents of the building and are thought to range in age between 58 to 78. Autopsies are ongoing for the victims.

Ten residents were also injured in the fire that started around 1 a.m. Tuesday at the apartment, which was built more than 30 years ago.

The last body was found on Wednesday near a first-floor bathroom, according to investigators.

The police said there were 25 residents in the building — 24 men ranging in age from their 20s to 70s and all living alone — and one male caretaker. There were 13 rooms on the first floor and 15 on the second.

Four of the five people that remained missing were living on the second floor, where the police and firefighters suspect the fire originated.

Of the 24 residents, 17 were undergoing psychiatric treatment at a nearby hospital, the company that manages the building said, and 12 were living on welfare, according to a Yokote city official.

The monthly rent was ¥50,000 which included breakfast and dinner served daily.

For years, the management company has accepted residents with mental disorders.

While many landlords turn away those with mental illness, the management company is one of a few that “understands” people with mental disabilities, an official at the hospital said.

The health ministry plans to reduce the number of hospitalized patients with mental disorder by up to 39, 000 by the end of fiscal 2020 from the current 185,000. The ministry plans to introduce a plan to help patients live on their own after discharge from hospitals with the assistance and cooperation of local medical, welfare and care workers as well as local residents.

“It’s unfortunate that this fire occurred, as we are stepping up efforts to support people with disabilities” to live their own independent lives, an Akita Prefectural Government official said.

The police and fire fighters continued to look into the cause of the fire, which razed the apartment building with a total floor space of 470 square meters and three nearby structures before dying out about five hours later.

The local fire department said they did not find any issues with the apartment building’s fire prevention and safety equipment during an inspection in 2012. A fire sprinkler system is not mandatory for such a small building.

The management company said a fire occurred at another of its apartment buildings in 2015. Since then, it has conducted emergency drills four times every year at the apartment in Yokote and prohibited the use of flammable substances and devices.

City officials said they had found no violations in the management of the building.