Fumes from 120 emptied spray cans caused Sapporo blast

This aerial view shows workers inspecting the site of the collapsed and charred building in Sapporo, northern Japan, where a large explosion occurred, injuring 42 people. The force of the explosion shattered glass windows in at least 20 buildings, so
This aerial view shows workers inspecting the site of the collapsed and charred building in Sapporo, northern Japan, where a large explosion occurred, injuring 42 people. The force of the explosion shattered glass windows in at least 20 buildings, some as far as 100m away, and damaged at least 26 vehicles.PHOTO: REUTERS

The chief of a Japanese real estate firm has apologised, admitting that his employees had caused an explosion that injured 42 and collapsed a building in Sapporo on the northernmost island of Hokkaido.

The two-storey wooden building, which housed an izakaya - a bar-cum-eatery - a clinic and a real estate firm, collapsed in the blast at about 8.30pm (7.30pm, Singapore time) on Sunday. It took six hours to put out the fire that followed, reports said.

The force of the explosion shattered glass windows in at least 20 buildings, some as far as 100m away, and damaged at least 26 vehicles.

Mr Taiki Sato, president of the real estate firm, told a nationally televised news conference on Tuesday that two of his employees had emptied about 120 spray cans of deodoriser for disposal. The deodoriser is used to remove odours at properties managed by the company.

The employees had been emptying the aerosol cans in a bid to reduce the office inventory before renovations started on Tuesday. As many as 200 spray cans had been kept at the office. Japanese media cited police sources as saying that all the windows and doors of the office were closed, and the fumes built up for hours. The explosion occurred when an employee switched on a water heater.

"We want to offer our most sincere apologies to those who were injured in the explosion, as well as those who sustained damage to their property," Mr Sato said, offering a deep bow in contrition.

Nobody died in the blast. The 42 injured were 19 males and 23 females, with the youngest just one-year-old. Only one - an employee, 33, of the real estate firm - was seriously injured.

 
 

The explosion caused a blackout in the building, and the fire that spread obstructed the stairway of the izakaya. This forced patrons and employees who were on the upper floor to jump from the second-storey window, moments before the izakaya collapsed on its side.

"If the izakaya had not collapsed, all of us who were remaining would have been burnt to death," Kyodo News Agency quoted a 49-year-old customer as saying.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2018, with the headline 'Fumes from 120 emptied spray cans caused Sapporo blast'. Print Edition | Subscribe