Public split over who to blame for Goyang fire

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Public split over who to blame for Goyang fire


The Sri Lankan construction worker investigated for his involvement in the fire at a gasoline storage facility in Goyang, Gyeonggi, is released by a local police precinct on Wednesday. [YONHAP]

The public is divided over who to punish for the blaze at a gasoline storage facility in Goyang, Gyeonggi, on Sunday.

A Sri Lankan construction worker who lit a sky lantern that caused the fire was arrested on Tuesday, but some say he should not take the blame.

Police released the Sri Lankan man Wednesday afternoon after they were denied a detention warrant. He will continue to be investigated.

“Don’t scapegoat the Sri Lankan worker for the fire at the gasoline storage center,” wrote one user in a petition on the Blue House website Tuesday. “The fire there was not caused by one individual but by a systematic failure. We should be asking questions of the safety manager of the gasoline storage center.”

The petition was signed by 2,719 people as of Wednesday afternoon.

A 27-year-old Sri Lankan man lit a sky lantern, which was 60 centimeters (23.6 inches) tall and 40 centimeters wide, at a nearby tunnel construction site where he worked in Goyang on Sunday.

The lantern landed on a patch of grass close to an outdoor oil tank at around 10:36 a.m. According to surveillance footage, smoke rose from the grass within two minutes of its landing.

The gas tank explosion that led to the giant blaze happened 18 minutes after the fire started.

The fire raged for over 17 hours, burning through 2.66 million liters (702,697 gallons) of gasoline inside the tank before it was put out early on Monday morning. An investigation by fire authorities and police concluded that the fire caused around 4.35 billion won ($3.8 million) in damage to the Daehan Oil Pipeline Corporation, which owns the tank.

No one was injured, as most of the station’s workers were off work on Sunday.

Some users on the Blue House website questioned why no one at the storage center noticed the fire until the gas tank exploded.

“For 18 minutes, nothing was done,” wrote another user on the Blue House website. “Where were the employees and managers of the gasoline storage center?”

There were 45 CCTV cameras installed at the center, but no one was monitoring them at the time, according to police.

Other petitions on the Blue House website demanded strict punishment for the man who released the lantern.

“It is nonsense to ask for a kind treatment of the Sri Lankan worker, who has inflicted 4.3 billion won in costs with the fire,” wrote another user on Wednesday. “The man simply went back to work without reporting the sky lantern to anyone. Both managers at the center and the Sri Lankan should be held responsible for the fire. Everyone stands equal before the law.”

“Don’t give the Sri Lankan man an easy time just because he is a foreigner,” wrote another user to the Blue House. “This is more than an accident. You need to investigate his intentions.”

The man was arrested on Monday.

He told police he lit the lantern out of curiosity after he discovered two lanterns which had landed at the construction site after a ceremony at a nearby elementary school on Saturday. A gust of wind blew the lantern away just after he lit the small fuel cell inside, the man said. He chased it towards the storage station but did not see the lantern land on the grass.

“He regrets his action a lot,” said Jang Jong-ik, the chief detective of the Goyang Police Precinct, who is investigating the case, on a CBS radio program on Wednesday.

According to Jang, the Sri Lankan man has been living in Korea for three years with his younger brother. He makes around 3 million won a month.

Police concluded Monday that the man was aware that the storage facility contained flammable material and arrested him on charges of misdemeanor arson. They requested a detention warrant for him on Monday, but the prosecution dismissed the request on Wednesday, stating there is a “lack of evidence on the cause and effect of the incident.”


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