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21 people killed in arson at Jangseong nursing home

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By Lee Hyo-sik

A firefighter works in the fire-damaged area of a care facility in Jangseong, South Jeolla Province, Wednesday. An 81-year-old dementia patient set a fire in the three-story sanatorium for the elderly, killing 21 people and injuring eight. / Yonhap
Police apprehended an 81-year-old dementia patient for allegedly setting a fire in a nursing home in South Jeolla Province, early Wednesday, which killed 21 people and injured eight.

Also on Wednesday, there was a close call in a subway station in Dogok, southern Seoul, when firemen and subway officials cooperated to put out a fire set by a depressed man.

The 81-year-old, surnamed Kim, was a patient in the three-story sanatorium for the elderly.

According to surveillance camera footage, he set the fire in a utility room on the second floor of Hyosarang Care Hospital in Jangseong at 00:25 a.m. and then left.

Officers captured Kim hours later at a nearby hospital where those who escaped the fire were being treated, and questioned him about why he set the fire.

"Even though Kim is suffering from Alzheimer's, he is able to communicate in a logical manner. We are questioning him about his motives," an officer said. "His act led to the deaths of 20 fellow patients and one nurse who all died of smoke inhalation."

A forensic team is now working to find the exact cause of the blaze.

Most patients in the hospital were in their 70s and 80s — with some being restrained in bed at the time of the blaze. Only one nurse was on duty. She was among the dead.

Around 10 patients on the first floor were able to escape shortly after the blaze started, but 30 patients on the second floor inhaled toxic fumes and 20 of them ended up dead.

Hours later another arson attack caused panic on the Seoul subway.

A 71-year-old man was taken into custody shortly after he set a fire on a train on Subway Line 3 at 10: 54 a.m. The arsonist, indentified by his surname Cho, sprayed inflammable liquid on the floor of the subway car and lit it, when it was approaching Dogok Station in southern Seoul.

Subway employees and fire officers were able to bring the blaze under control with fire extinguishers in about six minutes, according to police.

Nearly 370 passengers onboard the subway train immediately evacuated and no one was severely injured, with one woman sustaining a sprained ankle.

Police officers apprehended Cho at a nearby hospital where he was being treated for burns he sustained at the time of the arson.

According to police, Cho said he was trying to commit suicide after failing to receive "proper" compensation from the government for the damage his business suffered from the overflow of a septic tank.

Nearly 280 firefighters and 69 fire trucks were dispatched to the scene. For nearly two hours after the incident, subway trains passed through Dogok Station without stopping.

In addition, a fire broke out at an underground parking lot of a Homeplus outlet in Dongdaemun, downtown Seoul, at 9:06 a.m. Wednesday. The blaze started from a vehicle in the discount store's fifth-floor basement and was put out in about 27 minutes. About 50 shoppers evacuated from the store and the car's owner was taken to hospital for smoke inhalation.

Also, a blaze broke out in an underground parking lot of the SK Group headquarters building in downtown Seoul at 10:18 a.m. One vehicle was destroyed by fire but it was put out in four minutes by sprinklers.




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