Japanese police on Saturday searched the house of one of the patients at a mental-health clinic where a fire gutted an entire floor in an eight-storey building, killing 24 people trapped inside.
An Osaka police investigator told The Associated Press that the man is a possible suspect. A small fire broke out at the man’s house about half an hour before the building fire on Friday.
He is believed to be among the three people who survived and were in severe condition. Police have not arrested anyone, and it may take a while until the man recovers enough to be interrogated.
According to witnesses interviewed by Japanese media, a man walked into the clinic in downtown Osaka carrying a paper bag, which he put on the floor, right next to a heater by the reception desk, and kicked it. A liquid poured out, caught fire and the whole floor was in flames and smoke.
Witness accounts suggested that the victims gasped for air and struggled to find their way out.
Police and fire officials on Saturday returned to the site in the middle of Osaka’s main business section of Kitashinchi.
Media reports indicated they found traces of oil that might have been used in the fire.
Some experts were surprised by the death toll in a daytime fire that was largely put out within an hour. Authorities are investigating how the smoke filled the floor so quickly and the victims became trapped.
There was no emergency exit in the clinic. The office had several compartments for consultations and workshops along just one aisle, with the main counselling room on the far end of the floor.
One of the visitors who witnessed the beginning of the fire at the reception desk was able to run out.
Mourning the dead
Osaka residents were in shock.
Some brought flowers, bottled water and canned drinks as offerings to the spirits of the departed outside the building.
A neighborhood retiree, Seki Kageyama, 77, returned to the site after finding out about the large number of dead from what he thought was a minor fire.
“I thought a small fire broke out,” he said. “I was really stunned when I heard that someone set a fire and killed people there.”