National

Electrical fault could have caused inferno at Okinawa's Shuri Castle, police say

Kyodo

A problem with electrical equipment in the main hall might have caused the fire last week that destroyed Shuri Castle, a symbol of Okinawa located at a UNESCO World Heritage site, according to an announcement made by the fire department of Naha, Okinawa Prefecture on Wednesday.

A surveillance camera captured flashing light in the interior of the burned-down Seiden main hall’s northeastern side on the castle’s first floor shortly before and after the fire started at around 2:34 a.m. on Thursday, separate sources familiar with the situation said.

When the fire broke out a thermosensitive sensor at the building activated, and the police sources said Tuesday that footage from other security cameras had been obtained showing a flame flaring up on the first floor.

The police believe that the fire, which engulfed seven wooden buildings occupying a total of more than 4,000 square meters, was unlikely to have been caused by arson.

After also hearing from witnesses, police increasingly suspect the blaze spread from the main hall’s northeastern side because of problems with the electrical system, the sources said.

“Shuri Castle is an extremely important architectural structure that symbolizes Okinawa’s pride,” said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the first meeting of ministers related to reconstruction of the castle, held Wednesday. “The government will make utmost efforts with its responsibility, including allocating necessary financial resources, so that the castle will be reconstructed as soon as possible.”

Since Friday, police have been conducting on-site investigations with firefighters to determine the cause. They have recovered a large lighting panel from the north side of the main hall, but no signs of any short-circuit had been found within it as of Tuesday, according to the sources.

Workers were preparing the venue for a theatrical performance in the courtyard in front of the main building until 1½ hours before the fire broke out, but they used power outlets located at Hoshinmon, a nearby entrance area, rather than from the building, the sources said.

The performance was scheduled as part of the castle’s annual festival, which started on Oct. 27 and was supposed to continue until last Sunday.

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