[EDITORIALS]A preventable tragedyA fire that engulfed a bar in a red-light district in Gunsan, North Jeolla province Tuesday morning took the lives of 12 employees, mostly female hostesses. The shocking aspect of Tuesday's fire is that it took place only 2 kilometers away from a bar where a September 2000 fire killed five prostitutes, in a similar manner.
Police investigations to date show that the casualties are higher than they might have been because a locked steel gate barred the way to the second floor. The employees, who had been drinking into the early morning, were sleeping in a small room on the first floor when the fire broke out. They attempted to escape via the second floor, but could not because the locked steel gate stood in their way. They are all assumed to have died from smoke inhalation. We are outraged at this news, because the last fire in the area also involved a steel gate that kept the victims from escaping.
The fire safety facilities at the bar were also inadequate. The stairway was too narrow to allow more than one person to pass at a time. The windows on the second floor were reinforced with Styrofoam and wooden boards to prevent heat from escaping. The locked steel gate, as in the other fire, was installed to keep the women there from escaping.
Neighbors said they saw the bar hostesses being shadowed by burly men even when they went to hair salons or to a public bath, testimony that suggests they were in effect imprisoned by their employer. The authorities did nothing about the poor facilities nor about the treatment of the bar employees, and the result was a preventable tragedy.
Police should investigate thoroughly to discover the cause of the fire. Authorities should pursue those accountable so there will be no more tragedies of this kind. How many more women treated like slaves must lose their lives?
Another aspect of the investigation might well embarrass the police. The investigation of the fire a year ago showed that the police went easy on these red-light establishments because they received bribes in return. The police in Gunsan should thoroughly investigate whether there were such collusive links between police and owners of the establishment this time around as well.