+ A

Authorities: Sejong fire was caused by oil mist

June 28,2018
A fire at a construction site in Sejong, presumably started by oil mist in the air, left three dead and 37 injured on Tuesday. Many of the casualties were Chinese construction workers.

The fire started at around 1:10 p.m. at an apartment building construction site in Sejong. Witnesses said they heard 10 big explosions from an underground parking lot before smoke started billowing out of the building.

The Sejong Fire Headquarters promptly dispatched 49 rescue vehicles and 194 firefighters. The blaze lasted for over five hours before it was put out at around 6:48 p.m. The heat from the flames could be felt from 300 meters (984 feet) away.

Three construction workers died in the fire. Authorities presume that one failed to escape from the underground parking lot and two others died from smoke inhalation. The three bodies were so badly burnt that they were difficult to identify, authorities said. It is unclear if they wore masks while attempting to escape.

Among the 169 workers on site, some were rescued while hanging from windows and others went to the roof. Of the 37 people injured, four were firefighters. Seventeen of the injured have since been discharged and 20 are still in the hospital. Three remain in critical condition.

One of the workers killed was Chinese and 14 other Chinese workers sustained injuries, with one in critical condition. The Chinese Embassy in Seoul has reportedly sent three officials, including the deputy consul general, to identify the victims and assess the damage.

According to the Sejong Fire Headquarters, the fire likely started when oil mist in the underground parking lot combusted. The constructor said epoxy coating and paint work was being done there.

Authorities believe the fire quickly got out of hand because of the site’s many flammable materials. The structure of the building also created a “chimney effect,” where the movement of air makes fires spread more quickly, authorities said. Since the underground and above-ground parts of the building were connected instead of being separated by an above-ground parking lot, it was easier for the fire to travel upstairs from the basement.

The Sejong Fire Headquarters said it would cooperate with the police, the National Forensic Service and the Daejeon Regional Employment and Labor Office to find the exact cause of the fire.

The Daejeon Regional Employment and Labor Office banned any further work on the construction site at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and plans to lift the ban only after checking if the site is safe. The Sejong City Government is also planning a safety check of the building.

BY SHIN JIN-HO, NOH SHIN-YOUNG [noh.shinyoung@joongang.co.kr]