Quick response saved lives at massive blaze in Suwon

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Quick response saved lives at massive blaze in Suwon

Authorities began a forensic analysis Sunday of a massive fire in a large commercial building in Suwon, Gyeonggi, on Friday. Despite the scale of the blaze, there were no deaths thanks to a smooth evacuation process.

The 11-story building, located next to Suwon Station, is home to a large internet cafe - called a PC bang in Korean - on the first two basement floors. It can accommodate up to 500 customers. Around 250 people - many of them high school students who had just finished their college entrance exams - were at the PC bang Friday afternoon when the manager detected black smoke rising from a vent connected to the exterior and immediately told all the customers to evacuate the building. This decision may have saved many lives.

According to the police and witnesses, the PC bang’s manager and employees quickly ran around the first and second basement floors and guided customers towards the emergency exit.

“The employees evacuated customers as soon as the fire was detected and only escaped themselves after verifying that no one had been left behind,” said a police spokesman. “In a situation where dozens of people had to escape through a narrow exit, there would have been more casualties had the evacuation been delayed.”

During the evacuation process, however, 67 people inhaled smoke and had to be treated at local hospitals. One 18-year-old girl who was found on the first floor of the building by firefighters briefly stopped breathing, but was resuscitated by rescue personnel as she was being transported to a nearby hospital. She lost consciousness, however, and is currently undergoing treatment in the intensive care unit.

The fire did not spread much beyond the first basement floor thanks to a quick response from firefighters. Emergency responders arrived on the scene only four minutes after the fire was reported, and the Gyeonggi Disaster and Safety Headquarters escalated the emergency response level to ensure that enough personnel were deployed to combat the fire.

Local fire departments sent a total of 218 firefighters and 87 vehicles, and the fire was put out four hours and 40 minutes after it began. The large scale of the response was due to the fact that the fire began in the basement, as rising smoke could potentially lead to a high casualty rate, fire authorities said.

No additional casualties have been reported from the other floors, which house over a dozen stores. The fire largely took place in the PC bang and is estimated to have caused property damage of up to 524 million won (around $468,000).

To determine the exact causes of the accident, five government agencies, including the Suwon Police Precinct, National Forensic Service, Labor Ministry and fire departments, began a forensic analysis of the site on Sunday. Based on the level of damage to the first basement floor and witness testimonies, fire authorities say the fire likely began inside the ventilation system there.

Forensic analysts will also inspect whether the building’s sprinklers and fire alarms were working properly.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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