Japan sends troops to fight massive fire fanned by winds

RUNAWAY BLAZE: Fire engulfs houses and shops in Japan. Picture: Reuters
RUNAWAY BLAZE: Fire engulfs houses and shops in Japan. Picture: Reuters

A rapidly spreading fire engulfed more than 100 buildings and sparked evacuations in a northern Japanese city yesterday, leaving two people injured and forcing authorities to mobilise the military.

Aerial footage broadcast live on Japanese TV showed massive orange flames and thick grey smoke spewing out of buildings throughout much of the day in the city of Itoigawa in Niigata prefecture.

A total of 155 army personnel and 25 vehicles arrived in the coastal city in the afternoon after Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama requested aid.

The blaze started at a Chinese restaurant, according to a Niigata prefectural official, and at least 17 fire trucks were deployed in the area.

As daylight receded, the bright burning flames contrasted with the darkening sky, while embers smouldered in some of the gutted structures.

City official Atsuhiro Kawanami said: “We can still see fire and smoke rising in the area from city hall.”

He said efforts to put out the fire were continuing and officials were still assessing its scale.

About 140 houses and buildings were damaged and 65 residents evacuated their houses to a city hall auditorium, while an evacuation advisory was given to 586 residents in the neighbourhood.

“This is an area that has both [homes] and shops,” Kawanami said, “but the fire happened during the day, so we think that many, if not most, residents were away.”

Itoigawa is on the northern coast fronting the Sea of Japan and has a population of 44 510 people.

The fire, which dominated media coverage in Japan, spread quickly as winds accelerated.

Constant winds, registered at 40km/h at 6pm, remained a challenge as authorities sought to control the flames.

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