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5 Killed, 40 Injured in Asylum Blaze

Posted October. 21, 2006 07:17,   


A fire at a mental hospital, which is suspected as arson, killed five patients and caused 40 casualties.

A fire broke out on October 20 at 5:50 a.m. at Wonhee Mental Institution in Gyo-dong, Gongju City, South Chungcheong Province, causing five patients, including Yang (62), to die of suffocation from the smoke. 35 people, including Lee (38), were hurt in various degrees and are being treated in five different hospitals including Chungnam National University Hospital.

The staff on duty, helper Yoo (38), said, “A fire started in the medical treatment room so I was putting it out myself when I saw fires in other places through the CCTV, so I called 119.”

This hospital on the third floor (1,676 square meters) of a four-story building in a residential area consists of seven patient accommodation rooms and a consultation room, nurses` room, living room, office, medical treatment room, and program room, and 40 patients including mental patients and alcohol-dependent patients and two helpers were inside at the time of the fire.

The Gongju Fire Station sent 200 firefighters and various equipment including nine pump trucks, four tank cars, and three ladder trucks, and put out the fire in an hour and evacuated the people. However, the hospital being on the third floor made it difficult to enter, and the iron bars installed for crime prevention hindered the process of extinguishing the fire and saving the people inside.

The Gongju Police Office suspects arson to be highly probable due to the fact that the fire started in the program room moved simultaneously to four or five places including the halls and nurses’ room.

A police official pointed in the direction of a Ms. A, who was killed in the fire, as the suspect, saying, “Compiling the CCTV records and statements of witnesses shows Ms. A walking around smoking just before the fire, and it was verified that she went into the program room.

The police are not ignoring chances of accidental fire due to cigarette sparks.

There have also been allegations that the large number of casualties was caused by the staff failing to quickly evacuate the patients. Inpatient Choi (42) said, “The fire alarm went off, so some patients crowded out into the hall and started walking to the exit, but the staff told us to go back to our rooms since the fire had been put out so we went back to our rooms. But it didn’t feel right so we went back out about three minutes later and the hospital was filled with smoke.”

The owner of the internet cafe on the second floor, Cho (27), also said, “The fire alarm went off on the third floor so I went upstairs but a hospital employee told me it was okay so I came back down but the alarm continued to ring and I could see smoke and flames.”

However, the employees told the police, “Nothing like that happened. We were evacuating patients.” Also, some of the patients who were hurt claimed, “The iron door of the back entrance heading to the rooftop was shut so it was difficult to get out.”

Meanwhile, Choi Jae-sik (39), the owner of J-Express, a nearby moving service, used his ladder truck to save 10 people.

Choi said, “My friend (district volunteer firefighter Lee Yeong-don) called me around 6:20 a.m. and asked me to come help at a fire scene so I went right away. There were some delays in my business, but I’m glad I was able to save lives.”