NIIGATA (TR) – A major blaze that tore through Itoigawa City and razed over 140 homes, leaving 11 injured, was likely caused by an empty pot left unattended on an open stove that caught fire and spiraled out of control, Nippon News Network reported on Saturday (Dec. 24).
A male 72-year-old owner of a Chinese restaurant where the fire started told authorities he “was preparing dishes before opening up shop when I stepped out for a moment after putting a pot over an open stove, and when I came back, there was a fire,” NHK reported.
“I tried to put out the fire, but it was too strong and I couldn’t extinguish it,” the owner said.
Deemed by the government to be the worst fire excluding earthquakes and tsunami in the past 20 years, 1,053 firefighters from three prefectures battled tough conditions in what turned out to be a 10-hour effort.
Authorities lifted on Saturday an evacuation order issued for 744 residents across 363 households near the grounds of the blaze, which engulfed a roughly 40,000-square-meter area.
Efforts are now focused on restoring core city services like electricity while the number of injured has climbed to 11 including residents and firefighters.
A 24-year-old person of Filipino nationality who was running a bar next to the Chinese restaurant told NHK they “went running to the shop when a worker told me it was on fire at the time. I went back there today, but the inside of the shop was a mess and I couldn’t get inside.”
“I have no words. This place started running just six months ago, and I was just thinking about the future when I lost everything, I’m devastated,” the 24-year-old said as their eyes welled with tears. “I hope to start all over again.”
Ie Saito, 86, lost her home she was sharing with her son.
Visiting the ruins of her house, Saito was able to recover a 30-centimeter-tall stone statue from their courtyard garden after the evacuation order was lifted on Saturday.
Saito had long treasured the statue as a precious memento of her deceased husband and elder sister-in-law, believing it was watching over her family.
“Everything was gone except for this statue, not a trace of our home was left behind,” Saito said. “But I feel this statue has protected our lives. I’m going to pass this on to our children so it can continue to watch over us.”