Police are suspecting that the blaze that claimed nine lives overall was caused by a cigarette. "Given that the gun range allowed smoking, we are looking into the possibility of this activities role in the accident," Kim Jung-hwak, chief of the Busan Jungbu Police Station said during a press conference Monday. Police have been conducting an investigation at the shooting range since the weekend and are yet determine the exact cause.
Citing Japanese tourists that had used the shooting range, a Japanese newspaper observed that its sound-proofing structure had made it difficult for smoke to escape in case of a fire. Tourists also said that the building was old, had low ceilings and poor ventilation, making it susceptible to fire.
The Korean government issued an apology for the incident and is expected to take due compensatory measures. "We will take proper measures to deal with the aftermath of this incident and come up with policies to prevent future occurrences," Yoo In-chon, minister of culture, tourism and sports, said.
Noting that the fire could have been avoided with stricter adherence to safety measures, President Lee Myung-bak urged a review of standards nationwide. "We must take this incident as an opportunity to raise our consciousness about safety throughout our society. Such efforts should not be limited to the tourism industry," the President said during a weekly meeting with his top aides.
The Korea Herald article, which kind of jumps all over the place, reads in part:
The Japanese government and media expressed appreciation for the sincerity of the Korean government, but nevertheless pointed out that safety levels were sub-standard.
A five-story building in a Busan marketplace was engulfed in a sudden blaze following a loud blast at around 1:26 p.m. on Saturday, according to witnesses. On the second floor was an indoor shooting range, a tourist spot which had recently become very popular among Japanese visitors.
The 10 victims died on the scene from burns and six more, three of them Japanese, were injured and taken to nearby hospitals.
The death toll may possibly rise as the injuries are critical, said the police.
The tourists had come from the Japanese town of Nagasaki to the port city earlier that day for a two-day school reunion trip.
Some 37 distressed family members of the Japanese victims arrived in Busan to verify their identities.
Meanwhile, the police are struggling to find the exact cause of the fire.
"One of the possibilities is that there might have been an explosion caused by leftover gunpowder and cigarette smoke," said a police official.
Yesterday the Joongang Ilbo wrote:
Japanese media were critical of the lax safety measures at the shooting range where the fire occurred. The Asahi Shimbun noted that opening an indoor shooting range in Korea requires strict standards for firearm safety and soundproofing, but that fire prevention tends to take a backseat.
The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the burned-down Busan range had no windows and only two exits. It quoted an Osaka man who had visited the range in the past as saying, “It was such a closed-off place that it would have been difficult to escape if there had been a fire.”
The Chosun Ilbo has an editorial, "Fatal Fire at Shooting Range Another Avoidable Tragedy":
It is frustrating to see the continuation of tragedies caused by poor safety measures in Korea. There have been eight major fatal fires since 2000, including one at a mental hospital in November of 2000 that killed eight people, another at a private crammer in Gwangju that killed eight in 2001, and a blaze at a bar in Gunsan in 2002 that left 12 dead. In 2003 a fire set by an arsonist inside a subway train in Daegu killed 192 people, while a blaze in a mental hospital in South Chungcheong Province in 2006 left five dead. In 2007, nine foreigners who had entered Korea illegally were killed in their holding cells when a fire broke out at an immigration office in South Jeolla Province. And in January and December of 2008, 47 people were killed after fires burned two cold-storage facilities in Gyeonggi Province. The locations and types of fires may be different, but they were all caused by the same reason: a lax attitude toward safety regulations designed to protect human lives.
The latest tragedy occurred at a shooting range that was located on the second floor of a five-story building. People could have jumped out of the windows and survived, but anti-theft steel bars on the windows trapped the victims inside and thick sound-proofing materials prevented smoke from flowing out. Nevertheless, the structure passed a fire safety inspection conducted on Nov. 6. In April of 2006, a fire at a shooting range in Seoul killed one worker and injured seven, including three Japanese tourists. Less than four years later we have a far greater tragedy in another shooting range.
The Korea Times editorial is titled "Tragic Fire":
Saturday's fire killing 10 people has added fuel to the nation's notoriety for disregarding safety and prevention measures against potential risks for human lives and properties. It is all the more tragic that seven of the victims were Japanese tourists. What a pity it was to see that their visit to Korea became the last moment of their life? We extend our heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families of those killed in the blaze.
It concludes, continuing to worry about tourism and Korea's goddamn international image:
In particular, the shooting range fire is feared to have negative implications on the nation's tourism industry and its international image. Prime Minister Chung Un-chan visited a morgue at a Busan hospital to extend his condolences and apologize to the families of the victims. It was coincident that the fire took place on the same day when a gala ceremony was held in Seoul to celebrate the ``Visit Korea Year'' campaign for 2010 to 2012. Now, it's time for the nation to take revolutionary steps to prevent a recurrence of such a fire-induced tragedy.
On my last post about the fire, I mentioned how bad fire safety awareness can be here, citing as one example my school chaining all but one of the doors shut.
Others chimed in yesterday with comments. Earlier in the year Brian Dear wrote:
I was at Soonchunhyang University in 2002-2003 and they chained the emergency exits there too. Of course, being uncooperative with curfews and being trapped in a potential firebox, I picked the padlock and simply used a dot of glue to hold the lock together so it looked locked. Sometimes, you have to take your own safety in your hands. Buy your own smoke detectors, etc. That fire-exit locking business is a major, major tragedy waiting to happen.
Yesterday kwangdongbrian wrote:
My university and a private high school I have worked at both locked their doors at night.
And provided a link back to his own pictures of deplorable fire safety. 3gyupsal wrote:
I worked at a university that would chain the doors closed on the dormatories to prevent students (and teachers) from comming and going after a 12:00 curfew. Students who wanted to stay out or leave had to sign a piece of paper (Ironic given that they were college students.)
Puffin Watch wrote:
My school was divided in the middle with glass doors. The middle schoolers were on the other side. As was the only other exit in the event of fire. Of course they'd chain the doors during class time so the middle schoolers would not come over to the other side and make noise or something.
No one gave much thought to fire safety, of course. We were 8 floors up and no fire extinguisher had a needle on green. And of course all the fire flashlights had zero battery power as they were toys for the kids.
My thought was in the event of fire, I would probably be the first one to pick up a desk and hurl it through the locked glass doors.
And kushibo wrote about his experience in the 1990s:
At the international dorms at Yonsei the fire exits on each floor were blocked, as were the doors that connected the south wing (where the guys lived) and the east wing (where the girls lived).
The guy who ran the place was adamant that was not going to change. He wanted to make sure people obeyed curfew, and he didn't want guys and girls sneaking into each other's rooms and having sex.
I've turned off comments here, so please post them on yesterday's thread for the sake of keeping things organized.