Fire kills at least seven at Seoul budget hotel
A fire that likely blocked a crucial exit at a low-cost dormitory-style housing facility in central Seoul killed at least seven people and injured 11 others yesterday.
Fire authorities were last night investigating possible safety lapses in the building.
The blaze had been extinguished, but it was possible that the death toll could rise, officials at the Seoul Metropolitan Fire and Disaster Headquarters said.
The fire probably started near an exit door on the building’s third floor, said Kwon HyeokMin, chief of Seoul’s Jongno District Fire Station.
The residents were mostly labourers who made their living on day-to-day jobs.
“It was dawn and the exit door was likely blocked, so it would have been difficult (for the residents) to escape,” Mr Kwon said.
Another official from the Jongno station said the facility, which was built in 1983, did not have sprinklers because safety regulations can’t be retroactively applied to older structures. The official said it was unclear whether the building’s smoke detectors worked.
The facility, called “goshiwon” in Korean, is where poor workers relying on construction jobs or students preparing for bar exams or civil service exams stay in individual rooms with tiny sleep and study spaces. Budget travellers also often stay in such facilities.
South Korean media reported that most of the victims were manual labourers in their 40s to 60s. It wasn’t known whether any students or travellers were staying there.
The facility was located on the second and third floors of a three-storey building, where the fire agency said all the victims were found. Its first floor has restaurants.
South Korea, one of Asia’s richest economies, has struggled for decades to improve safety standards and change widespread attitudes that treat safety as subservient to economic progress and convenience.
Forty-six people died in January when a fire ripped through a small hospital with no sprinkler systems in the southern city of Miryang. It was the country’s worst fire since 2008, when 40 people died at a refrigerated warehouse in Incheon, near Seoul. Twenty-nine people were killed in a building fire in Jecheon in December last year.
Firefighters at the hotel