2 killed, 31 injured in South Korean arson attack at motel

Firefighters wearing protective gear at a suspected arson site in Gwangju, Korea, on Dec 22, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - At least two people were killed and 31 others injured in a suspected arson attack on a motel in Gwangju on Sunday (Dec 22).

Authorities said the fire, which broke out at 5.45am at the motel in the northern part of the city, was extinguished within 22 minutes at 6.07am.

The death toll could rise, as 13 people sustained serious injuries due to smoke inhalation and burns, according to the authorities.

Most of the 32 rooms of the five-storey accommodation were occupied at the time of the fire.

Police arrested a man, 39, identified only by the surname Kim, on suspicion of arson. He is in an intensive care unit, but his condition is not life-threatening.

According to Gwangju Bukbu Police Station, Kim told police he had checked in by himself, set the bedding on fire with suicidal intent and left the building. The room where the fire had started was completely burnt down.

Police said their probe was interrupted as Kim had to be moved to the intensive care unit for burns and smoke inhalation. But as he had admitted to the crime at time of his arrest, substantiating his guilt will not be a problem, the police said.

The fire originated in a room on the third floor, preventing those on the upper floors from escaping.

One woman jumped from the fourth floor of the motel, landing on a canopy roof over the garage and avoiding serious injuries.

The motel was not required to install a fire sprinkler system due to the building classification.

In total, 217 fire officials and some 48 fire engines and other equipment were mobilised in firefighting efforts.

The Gwangju municipal office convened an emergency meeting in the aftermath of the fire to formulate a response and support victims.

"Fire caused by arson does not mean the city bears no responsibility," Mayor Lee Yong-seop said.

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