Sennichi Department Store Building fire
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The Sennichi Department Store Building fire occurred in Sennichimae, Minami-ku (now Chuo-ku), Osaka, Japan on May 13, 1972. The fire killed 118 people and injured another 78. It was the worst department store fire in terms of casualties in Japan. The building which housed the department store also contained various other businesses, including a cabaret. All the victims had been in the cabaret.
The fire started at 22:27 in the third floor, where women's dresses were sold. The cause of the fire was said to be a cigarette butt or a smouldering match left behind by a construction worker. Immediate attempts to extinguish the fire failed. The fire department was informed of the fire at 22:40 and started firefighting at 22:43. By that time, the third and fourth floors were fuming black smoke. Women's dresses for sale caught fire and helped spread the fire. The four floors from the second to the fifth were ablaze.
Poisonous gas resulting from burning construction materials filled the stairway and caused the majority of casualties. The loss was exacerbated by the locked exits in the cabaret. When elevators ceased to function, the situation turned into a mass panic. Twenty-four people attempted to escape by jumping out of windows, of whom 22 fell to their deaths. Ninety-six were found dead inside the cabaret. The fire was brought under control the next day and finally extinguished on the third day. Of the dead, 93 suffered carbon dioxide poisoning, three died from compression injuries in the chest and abdomen (meaning that they were probably trampled to death), and 22 died from jumping. Of the injured, 27 were firemen.
It was Saturday night, and the cabaret was filled to capacity, as it was one of the most popular night spots in Osaka. There were partitions in the fire exits, but they did not work. Notification to the fire station was delayed by 13 minutes. The fire shutter, which was not automatic, did not work. Multiple factors were responsible for the loss of life, including the design of the building itself, which had previously been a Kabuki theater. There was no fire sprinkler system. The existence of various different types of enterprises within one building was also a problem. The regulations and laws at the time of the construction of buildings collectively allowed these faults to occur.
At the time of the fire, there were shops directly run by the Sennichi Department Store in the first and second floors, supermarkets on the 3rd and 4th floors, stores of the same prices on the 5th floor, game corners on the 6th floor, a cabaret called "Playtown" which was run by an affiliated company, and a showroom "haunted house" and coffee house underground. It was a so-called "conglomerate building" with different administrators. The 6th floor was partly under construction to become a bowling alley and the 3rd floor was also under construction.
Two people from the Sennichi Department Store and two people from the Playtown Cabaret were indicted for occupational negligence resulting in fire and casualties. One of the department store people died during the trial. On November 29, 1990, the remaining three persons were finally found guilty. A department administrator was sentenced to imprisonment for two years and six months with suspension of three years; two persons involved with the cabaret were sentenced to one year and six months with suspension of two years.
After the fire
The 1972 Sennichi Department Store Building fire and the 1973 Taiyo Department Store fire, both of which caused many casualties, finally led to amendments of the Construction Standard Law and the Fire Fighting Law. These amendments dictated that steps must be taken to prevent the possibility of smoke hindering people who are trying to escape from a fire.
- Database of failures "Sennichi Department Fire" by Tokyo University Professor Ken-ichi Horikawa (source of information, National Diet Library)