Police say deadly blaze began in shooting area
The fatal fire at a Busan indoor shooting range in November was caused by either flame from a rifle or its spent shell, police said yesterday.
The Busan police said they’ve “tentatively concluded” that the fire started in front of one of the shooting lanes, where flammable materials, such as gunpowder and sound-absorbing sponge, were piled.
They said either exhaust flames or the shell from a rifle might have reached the materials.
The Nov. 14 fire claimed the lives of 15 people, including 10 Japanese tourists.
Police investigators reached their conclusion by breaking down footage from the closed circuit television at the shooting range. Initially, footage from seven of the eight CCTVs, totaling about 15 seconds, was thought to have been lost in the fire. But the National Institute of Scientific Investigation managed to recover the footage by restoring the computer hardware connected to the CCTVs.
Officials from the police and the institute said the recovered footage showed a spark in front of the first shooting lane. They said they spotted some gunpowder or chemical residue that could have easily been set on fire.
A police investigator further talked about how the fire engulfed the range.
“Within the confined space of the range, burning of flammable materials caused a great deal of fire and smoke,” the investigator said. “That led to a quick rise in the temperature and fire soon swept through the range and onto the adjacent lounge.”
Based on their analysis of the footage, investigators ruled out the possibility of a short circuit.
After the first two rounds of on-site inspections, Busan police had pointed to a sofa at the lounge as the starting point for the fire. But in a third inspection, they said the fire had first started at the shooting lane. Investigators noted that the lock on the inside of the door had been damaged.
Masaru Kasahara, a Japanese survivor, also told the police that he had heard an explosion from inside the range and saw the flames.
In the early stages of the investigation, there were rumors of possible arson planned by a Japanese yakuza crime syndicate, after a run-in with Korean counterparts.
A similar fire at a Seoul indoor shooting range in April 2006 injured three Japanese tourists. Such shooting ranges in Korea and other parts of Asia have been a popular destination for Japanese tourists.
By Yoo Jee-ho [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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