3 06 2008

Fire kills 3 at facility in Kanagawa Pref.

3 June 2008

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Daily Yomiuri Online

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20080603TDY02311.htm

Yokohama–Three people were killed and another seriously injured in a fire that engulfed a home for the mentally disabled early Monday in Ayase, Kanagawa Prefecture, police said.

The Kanagawa prefectural police department suspects arson since a storage unit outside the home was most heavily burned in the fire, police said.

The fire started at the Haimu Himawari facility at around 2:30 a.m., destroying the two-story wooden building that housed seven men and women on 315 square meters of land and a private house adjacent to the building. The blaze was put out about five hours later, according to police.

The bodies of two men and one woman were discovered in the debris.

The bodies are believed to be those of Akira Isozaki, 57, Kazushi Tsunoda, 60, and Sachiko Matsumoto, 69, all of whom had been housed on the second story of the facility. Toru Murata, 51, sustained a serious injuries through smoke inhalation, the police said.

At the time of the fire, all seven people were inside the home. Three of them escaped unhurt–two from the second floor and one from the first floor.

The fire burned the ceiling of the first-floor dining hall and rooms on the second floor of the facility.

Police found the storage unit, located under the stairs leading to the second floor, was most heavily burned. The storage unit cannot be accessed from the inside of the building, but its aluminum door was not locked.

No fire source is usually used anywhere near the storage unit, which was used to store kerosene stoves, a few plastic containers, tableware and other items.

According to a senior officer of the police department, residents of the home saw smoke gushing from the stairs and the storage unit. The police suspect that the fire was deliberately started in the storage unit.

The home was opened in August 1994. It had eight rooms that accommodated three mentally disabled men and four women from Ayase and neighboring areas, aged 51 to 69, according to the facility’s operator.

They spent their days working outside the facility. Otherwise, they spent their time inside the home.

One of the employees at the facility usually keeps watch over the home at night while staying in a room on the first floor. Since Sunday night, however, no staff had been available for night duty as the employee assigned to work that night was on vacation.

The facility had no fire alarm or sprinkler system, according to police.

According to the Kanagawa prefectural government, the roles and assignments of personnel who work at homes such as Haimu Himawari are dictated by an ordinance issued by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

The ministry’s ordinance does not require such homes to post someone to watch over the facility at night. Instead, it defines this as an item on the list of services provided to people living in such facilities.

The facility was located in a residential area about 300 meters south of Kashiwadai Station on the main line operated by Sagami Railway Co.

A group home is a facility that houses a group of elderly or mentally disabled people who require nursing care, physical and other assistance. As of January 2008, there were 2,736 such group homes for mentally disabled people nationwide, according to the ministry.

Revised ordinance not in effect

In January 2006, seven people died in a fire that started at a home in Omura, Nagasaki Prefecture. This disaster prompted the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, an affiliate of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, to revise an ordinance concerning the enforcement of the Fire Service Law to require small social welfare institutions to install sprinklers at their facilities in June 2007.

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