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Police launch probe into Uijeongbu fire

The police on Sunday launched a probe into the apartment fire that left four people dead and over 100 residents injured in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province, north of Seoul.

The blaze that engulfed three buildings claimed four lives and wounded 124 residents on Saturday. Of the injured, 11 are in critical condition, officials said.

The fire broke out from a motorcycle spark at a parking lot on the first floor of the apartment, the Uijeongbu Police said after analyzing the building’s surveillance cameras. Having started from the spark, the blaze soon spread through the apartment complex and to two other adjacent residential buildings, resulting in property losses of at least 9 billion won ($8.2 million), they added.
A fire broke out at an apartment in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province, early Saturday, leaving four people dead and over 100 residents injured. (Yonhap)
A fire broke out at an apartment in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province, early Saturday, leaving four people dead and over 100 residents injured. (Yonhap)

The investigators conducted a first round of inquiry with the owner of the motorcycle to gather further details. The possibility of an arson attack is low, the police said.

The police also said no measures were taken in the first 17 minutes, allowing the fire to further spread.

Some victims claimed that the flame spread to other buildings due to the wind from firefighting helicopters.

“The fire was almost put out in 30 minutes in the first apartment but the helicopter propellers led the flame to spread to other buildings,” a group of the concerned residents was quoted as saying by Yonhap.

Two helicopters were at the scene to help evacuate a dozen residents waiting on the rooftop. Of these, only four were rescued by the helicopter while others escaped using emergency stairs. The fire was brought under control in about two hours.

Fire officials, however, refuted such claim, saying that evacuating people with a helicopter at a fire scene is a basic rule. They also stressed that the blaze quickly spread because the apartment walls were made of highly combustible materials.

Uijoengbu police authorities vowed to look into any illegalities concerning the affected buildings, including violation of construction law and fire safety law.

Meanwhile, Uijoengbu city government said that it would seek for a “special disaster region” declaration as part of its efforts to better support the accident victims.

More than 220 apartment residents have become refugees and are staying at a temporary shelter set up at a local elementary school.

Once the city is declared a special disaster region by the government, the city is allowed to receive special assistances ranging from finance to medical treatments.

The city also vowed to provide the refugees with an urgent subsidy of about 600,000 won per person. For the medical expenses, the municipality will pay the full cost first and seek reimbursement later from the building owners or insurance companies, it added.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (rene@heraldcorp.com)
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