SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A fire caused by suspected arson spread through an office building Thursday in South Korea’s Daegu city, killing at least seven people and injuring dozens, fire and police officials said.
Dozens of firefighters and vehicles quickly put out the blaze, which began in the late morning on the second of a seven-floor office building near the city’s district court.
Seven people were confirmed dead, including an unidentified man who police suspect set the fire in a lawyer’s office. At least 49 others were hurt, mostly from smoke inhalation, and 31 of them were being treated in hospitals, the Daegu Fire Department said.
The high number of casualties was possibly because the building didn’t have sprinklers on office floors, according to Park Seok-jin, chief of Daegu’s Suseong district fire department. He didn’t answer directly when asked whether there were any lapses in legally required safety standards.
Jeong Hyeon-wook, an official from Daegu Metropolitan Police, said security camera footage shows the suspect leaving his home holding an apparent container with both hands that may have been used to set the blaze. Jeong said all of the dead were found in the same room and that police were investigating possible motives. A team from the National Forensic Services was also deployed to the site.
With the suspect dead, it’s unclear whether anyone will be prosecuted over the fire unless police find an accomplice, Jeong said.
Photos showed people awaiting rescue on the roof and crowded balconies as smoke emerged from the building in Beomeo-dong, an affluent business district in Daegu, which is South Korea’s fourth-largest city and home to more than 2.4 million people.
Rescue workers wearing helmets and oxygen masks escorted people out of the building’s front door and used ladders and broke windows to get inside the second floor before carrying out the dead on stretchers. Police and forensic investigators were later seen examining the severely damaged and blackened walls and doors.
Daegu was the site of one of the worst arson attacks in South Korea’s history in 2003, when 192 people died after a 56-year-old man set fire on a subway train.