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Fire destroys much of Japanese UNESCO site Shuri Castle

Fire destroys much of Japanese UNESCO site Shuri Castle
October 31, 2019

UNESCO World heritage site, Shuri Castle, a popular tourist location in the capital of the Japanese island of Okinawa, has today been became engulfed in flames with a major fire engulfing much of the complex.

The fire has engulfed several of the restored wooden buildings including the Seiden hall, the Hokuden north hall and the Nanden south hall.

The 500-year-old castle attracted about 2.8 million people in the 12 months to the end of March 2019 with the site being on the route of next year’s Tokyo Olympic torch relay. A festival, recreating scenes from ancient rituals, was about to enter its fifth day at the castle.

The blaze, which started at around 2:30am this morning (Thursday) occupied a total of more than 4,000 metre² on a hill overlooking the prefectural capital of Naha, before it was extinguished around 1:30 p.m.

Media reports suggest that while the buildings were equipped with fire alarms and extinguishers, they did not have sprinklers, which are only mandatory at facilities that accommodate overnight guests.

Of about 1,500 artifacts kept in the castle buildings, over 400 may have been lost, according to the foundation.

Nearby residents were evacuated while firefighters battled the flames for hours before bringing it under control. No injuries have been reported.

Police don’t believe the fire that destroyed Shuri Castle, a symbol of Okinawa, was caused by arson. In analysing the evidence, including security camera footage at the gutted castle, thay have found no traces of intrusion into the castle ahead of the fire breaking out.

Okinawa Churashima Foundation, which manages the castle, told a news conference today that a security guard conducted a routine patrol inside the Seiden main building of the castle about an hour before the fire and found nothing amiss at the time.

As around 100 local officials entered the site in the morning, smoke was still rising from the burned-down main hall, where the authorities suspect the fire originated.

The city’s fire department said the castle’s heat detectors notified them of the fire at 2:34am this morning (Thursday). According to a Foundation official, aside from the heat detectors and seven security cameras, no other electrical machinery was active that night.

Around 70 staff members related to the festival had been on the premises, with workers installing lights and other equipment nearby, but they were all gone by just after 1am, prior to one of the security guards making his rounds.

Some of the event’s props were left in the main hall, according to the local officials.

Okinawa Governor, Denny Tamaki advised "the people of Okinawa are discouraged.”

Tamaki has also advised Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga that a restoration plan for Shuri Castle will be in place by 2022, the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s return to Japan after its postwar Occupation by the United States.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe added "we, as the Government, promise to work on rebuilding it.”

Following a fire that engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in April, the Japanese Government called for the strengthening of fire prevention measures to protect cultural properties across the country.

The Japanese Government has earmarked around Yen 8 billion in the fiscal 2020 budget for such efforts, quadrupling the amount from the current fiscal year.

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