Fire engulfs 140 buildings in Japan, but no deaths reported

Firefighters battle a blaze in the Japanese prefecture of Niigata which engulfed some 140 buildings.
Smoke rising from a fire that broke out in Itoigawa, Niigata prefecture, on Dec 22, 2016.
Smoke rising from a fire that broke out in Itoigawa, Niigata prefecture, on Dec 22, 2016.PHOTO: YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
Firefighters spraying water on a fire that broke out in Itoigawa, Niigata prefecture, on Dec 22, 2016.
Firefighters spraying water on a fire that broke out in Itoigawa, Niigata prefecture, on Dec 22, 2016.PHOTO: YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

TOKYO (AFP, REUTERS) - Japan drafted in troops on Thursday (Dec 22) to help contain a rapidly spreading fire, fanned by strong winds, which engulfed about 140 houses, shops and other buildings in a Japanese coastal city. 

Aerial footage broadcast live on Japanese TV showed massive orange flames and thick smoke spewing out of buildings in the city of Itoigawa in Niigata prefecture, located 230km north-west of Tokyo.

The fire forced the evacuation of hundreds of people from the city, home to 44,500 people. 

Troops were on their way to the coastal city after Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyam requested military aid, an official in the fire division of the prefectural government said.

“The fire has lost its strength. As of 8.50pm, we decided there was little chance of its spreading further,” a local fire department official said, adding it would take hours more to put it out completely. Five people suffered minor injuries and evacuation orders were issued for 363 houses nearby, he said.

The blaze started at 10.28am (9.28am Singapore time) at a Chinese restaurant, and a total of 17 fire trucks had earlier been deployed in the area.

The blaze spread quickly due to strong winds, according to public broadcaster NHK.

"Sparks of fire flew around," a man in the neighbourhood told NHK. "That's why far away buildings unexpectedly caught fire and it became large-scale. I've never seen something like this before."

The city also issued an evacuation advisory to 586 residents in the neighbourhood.