A fire engulfed a home for elderly welfare recipients in northern Japan, killing 11 people, Japanese police said Thursday.
The fire broke out before midnight Wednesday in Sapporo, the main city on the northern main island of Hokkaido. Sapporo police said five residents were rescued. Three of them were being treated at a hospital for injuries that were not life-threatening, they said.
Police so far identified the 11 victims only as eight men and three women. All 16 residents at the facility have been accounted for, said a police press official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak on the record.
Footage on public broadcaster NHK showed flames and smoke pouring out of the three-story building as firefighters battled the blaze.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
The building was a former three-story inn that had been rented by the operator for use as a group home for the poor, and was about 50 years old, Kyodo News reported. The building lacked sprinklers, which were not compulsory for the type of facility, Kyodo said.
"As there were many oil tanks (for kerosene stoves) there, I heard a number of small explosions," a 67-year-old woman in the neighborhood told Jiji Press.
"Luckily, the only damage to our house was some cracks on the window," she was quoted as saying.
Another woman in the neighborhood, 65, said when she spotted smoke and flames while she was watching the total lunar eclipse from the window of her house, Jiji Press said.
"The smoke and flames were rising vertically. If there had been wind, the damage would have been bigger," she told Jiji.
"The surrounding area was bright as if it were day because of efforts to extinguish fire, and smoke lasted until near the dawn," she said.
Others saw ash falling like snow in the vicinity of the fire, local media reported.
"It was an awful fire. It spread so quickly and flames were billowing," said one woman neighbor, who did not wish to be named.
The fire sparked memories of a similar incident in Sapporo in 2010 when seven residents of a private nursing home for the elderly were killed in a pre-dawn fire.
Four women and three men aged in their 60s to their 80s died when the blaze swept through the two-storey wooden house.
In that case, all the residents were believed to suffer from dementia.
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