Four killed and eight hurt in Saitama ‘soapland’ blaze

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

Four people were killed and eight injured in the city of Saitama Sunday after a three-story “soapland” establishment burned up, the police said.

Aerial footage on NHK showed gray smoke pouring out of the Kawaii Omiya soapland in the city’s adult entertainment district as dozens of firefighters battled the blaze. Soaplands are Japanese bath houses that offer sexual services.

“A man who appeared to be in his 40s and two women who appeared to be in their 20s died after being sent to a hospital,” a police spokesman said.

“We also found a body whose gender is undetermined inside the establishment,” he added.

It took about seven hours to put the fire out. The injured were treated at a hospital and one was in critical condition.

According to neighbors, it was windy when the fire broke out, and black smoke was coming out of the business, which had 170 sq. meters of floor space.

A woman in her 30s who works nearby heard a large explosion around 2 p.m. and quickly called emergency services after seeing streaks of black smoke outside.

“We were all safe, but our store was filled with smoke, too,” she said.

Emergency services also received calls from people inside the establishment saying they could not escape because the building was filled with smoke. The three-story building had only one entrance, according to the fire department.

A 63-year-old man who lives nearby said he saw a man with burned hair and a man and a woman covered with a blanket sitting on the streets after fleeing the building.

The Kawaii Omiya, about 500 meters north of JR Omiya Station, had no problems with its fire protection facilities when the Saitama Fire Department inspected it in June last year. But the fire department did instruct it to remove objects in a corridor so people could evacuate unobstructed in an emergency, and the company complied with its instructions.

Police are investigating the cause of the fire and trying to identify the victims, all of which they believe are customers or employees of the establishment.