Deadly fire in Cheonan may have been an inside job

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Deadly fire in Cheonan may have been an inside job

A mysterious blaze in Cheonan, South Chungcheong, that killed three on Thursday looks like a case of arson, police said.

A fire broke out at around 6:30 a.m. Thursday on the third floor of an apartment building in Cheonan that took the lives of a 72-year-old man, his 66-year-old wife and their 40-year-old daughter. Another family member, the 37-year-old son, managed to survive after escaping to a balcony, but sustained severe burns that left him hospitalized.

The fire was put out by emergency personnel that arrived within 30 minutes and did not spread to any other floors in the building.

Police and fire authorities found a total of seven plastic water bottles that contained traces of gasoline placed near the entrance of the home, the elderly couple’s bedroom and the living room.

The floor of the apartment was also covered with the same flammable liquid, and a lighter that is presumed to have lit the fire was found next to the kitchen sink.

With no traces of exterior wounds on the bodies of the victims and evidence suggesting that the fire had been lit in multiple places around the house, police say the fire looks likely to be the result of arson by one of the four family members - or all of them together - for reasons not yet known. The possibility that another figure could be involved is unlikely, police said, based on surveillance footage from a camera at the building’s entrance on the first floor.

A thorough autopsy of the three bodies is currently underway to determine their exact cause of death.

The elderly couple was living in the apartment with the son, while the daughter - a mentally disabled person - resided at an institution in North Jeolla but had returned home for the Lunar New Year holidays.

Relatives of the family objected to the idea that the fire was set by one of the four in the apartment, saying they had no cause to commit suicide since the daughter’s disability was something the family had lived with for decades.

Even more mysterious is the origin of the gasoline that caused the fire. Police have not yet found records of any of the family members buying gasoline from gas stations or any other stores nearby.

Neighbors attested that the family had a very harmonious relationship, with the son deeply caring for his parents. Many, however, added that the parents constantly worried about the future of their disabled daughter.

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

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