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Electrical system glitch suspected as cause for Shuri castle fire

  • November 7, 2019
  • , Jiji Press , 12:41 p.m.
  • English Press

Naha, Okinawa Pref., Nov. 7 (Jiji Press)–The fire department of Naha increasingly suspects that an electrical system glitch caused the fire that severely damaged Shuri Castle in the capital of the southernmost Japan prefecture of Okinawa a week ago.

The municipal fire department and the Okinawa prefectural police department continue their investigation of the incident. While authorities are gradually figuring out the extent of damage from the fire, the reconstruction of the celebrated castle is nowhere in sight.

The fire burned down seven buildings at Shuri Castle, including the “Seiden” main hall, which were rebuilt in 1992 at the total cost of some 7.3 billion yen, and some 400 stored items including art works.

The fire broke out in the small hours of Oct. 31. A security staff member rushed to the scene following an alarm, opened the shutter of the northern side of Seiden, went up stairs and found smoke filling the building.

The security official came back to the scene after calling for help and found smoke emitting from a window on the northeastern side of the first floor of Seiden, where there was a switchboard. By that time, the fire went out of control. The fire and police departments believe that the fire occurred on the northern side of Seiden.

The departments have recovered equipment believed to be the switchboard from the northern side of the main hall and are closely examining whether there are any signs of short circuits or other problems.

According to sources including the Okinawa government, there had been no problems such as electricity leakage before.

Meanwhile, the Okinawa Churashima Foundation, which manages Shuri Castle, corrected its initial explanation, given last Friday, the day after the fire, that security staff patrolled inside Seiden about an hour before the fire. It later said that security staff only checked Seiden from the Hoshinmon gate in front of the hall at the time and that a patrol inside Seiden was conducted five hours before the fire.

The foundation will examine whether there were any flaws in its Shuri Castle management system.

It has been found that the remains under the Seiden hall may have been partly damaged by debris that flew into the area through broken glass walls for visitors.

But most of the remains, registered as part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, was found covered with soil and therefore is believed to have escaped damage from the fire.

According to the foundation, some 1,100 cultural items stored at the castle, including a painting and two other works designated as important cultural properties by the prefecture, have been found safe.

But some 400 items, including a painting from the Ryukyu Kingdom era, were likely burned.

The Seiden hall was completed in 1992, some eight years after a reconstruction project began.

According to the Cabinet Office, it is hard to make a schedule or estimate costs for the reconstruction of the castle, partly because the same type of Japanese cypress as that used for some 100 pillars for the main hall is difficult to procure and delicate work by a craftsmen is also needed.

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