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(LEAD) State crime lab confirms Jecheon fire started from ceiling

All Headlines 13:54 December 23, 2017

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead and paras 2-3; TRIMS)

JECHEON, South Korea, Dec. 23 (Yonhap) -- Forensic investigators confirmed Saturday the deadly fire that engulfed a sports center in the southeastern city of Jecheon this week started from the first-floor ceiling of the parking lot.

"There is no doubt that the first-floor ceiling was the iginition point," an official from the National Forensic Service said in a media briefing.

Investigative authorities have been looking into the blaze that destroyed the gym building in the provincial city, 168 kilometers from Seoul, on Thursday. The accident claimed 29 lives, with 26 others injured who are now being treated at nearly hospitals for smoke inhalation.

The death toll quickly rose as many were trapped in a public sauna and could not promptly find their way out.

The crime lab's conclusion on the ignition point is in line with the preliminary analysis by the police and firefighters who suspected the heating wires that were being installed in the ceiling pipes could have caused the flames.

Jecheon Police Station said they will question the property owner, a 53-year-old only identified by his last name Lee. Since Lee is undergoing treatment in a hospital, they will pay a visit to get his statement, police said.

Lee purchased the building in August through a bid, according to police. He remodeled it to house a gym, public sauna and other facilities.

Police said they will beef up efforts to find out whether safety tools had been managed intact and Lee complied with required fire protection protocols.

Some surviving victims have told police that the sprinklers did not work at the time of fire and they saw some water leaks from fire-fighting facilities.

Police have obtained surveillance footage showing a flame instantly spreading over to the vehicles. They have sent the footage and four dashboard cameras retrieved from the cars to the national forensic service for further analysis.

A memorial altar for the victims has been set up in the city as part of efforts to offer a place for citizens to express condolences. President Moon Jae-in paid a visit to the site of the accident on Friday after he ordered a thorough probe into the accident to figure out the exact cause.

Investigators from the national crime lab conduct a second on-site investigation at the parking lot of the gym building in Jecheon on Dec. 23, 2017, two days after a blaze enveloped the facility and killed 29 people with 26 others injured. (Yonhap)

elly@yna.co.kr
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