Japan police investigate arson as at least 24 dead in clinic blaze

Firefighters work at the scene where 27 people were feared dead after a blaze at a building in Osaka on Dec 17, 2021. (PHILIP FONG / AFP)

OSAKA, Japan – A fire swept through a psychiatry clinic in the Japanese city of Osaka on Friday and killed at least 24 people, police said, adding that they are investigating the incident as suspected arson.

The blaze broke out on the fourth floor of an office building in a busy district of the western city around 10 am, public broadcaster NHK said.

A man who looked in his 60s was seen carrying a bag that was leaking liquid into the clinic's reception area before the fire started, NHK said, citing people close to the probe.

An official at Osaka city's fire department earlier told Reuters that 27 people had suffered from cardiopulmonary arrest, the term used in Japan before death is officially confirmed. Another person was injured, the official said.

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Firetrucks are seen in front of a building, where a fire broke out in Osaka on Dec 17, 2021. (STR / JIJI PRESS / AFP)

The fire broke out shortly after the clinic opened for business at 10 am and it was largely extinguished within 30 minutes, public broadcaster NHK reported

The fire was largely extinguished within 30 minutes, according to NHK. Footage showed smoke pouring out of the windows of the fourth floor, as well as the roof.

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"When I looked outside I saw orange flames in the fourth-floor window of the building. A woman was waving her hands for help from the sixth floor window," a 36-year-old woman who works at a company nearby told Kyodo.

Located in a shopping and entertainment district not far from Osaka's main train station, the building also houses a beauty salon, a clothes shop and an English-language school, NHK said.

Fire trucks and a police car are seen in front of an office building, where a fire broke out in Osaka on December 17, 2021. (BUDDHIKA WEERASINGHE / AFP)

By evening most of the fire trucks were gone. The burned out, broken windows were covered with blue tarpaulin.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida offered condolences and said authorities were working to determine the cause.

The father of a doctor who ran the clinic was unable to reach him by mobile phone, he told the Yomiuri newspaper. "Around noon I heard there was news of a fire on television and was surprised. My wife went to the site but we still don't know what's going on. I can't get through to my son's phone," he said.

The clinic's webpage was not accessible but an internet archive from earlier this year showed it treated patients for depression and panic problems, as well as physical issues such as sleep apnea and anemia.

Another woman who said she saw smoke coming from the window told Kyodo that power briefly went out in the surrounding area.

An arson attack at an animation studio in the city of Kyoto in 2019 killed more than 30 people and injured dozens.