SEOUL: At least 29 people were killed and 26 injured on Thursday in a major blaze at a fitness centre building in the South Korean city of Jecheon, officials said, in one of the country’s deadliest fire disasters. The fire broke out around 4:00 pm local time (0700 GMT) and quickly engulfed the entire eight-storey building, leaving many trapped inside.
Twenty victims were found at a public sauna and others elsewhere in the building that houses a fitness centre, public bath and restaurants, the National Fire Agency said.
“The fire produced so much toxic smoke so quickly, leaving many people unable to evacuate,” an agency spokesman said.
Many victims appeared to been unaware of the fire raging outside the bathhouse until it became impossible to flee, he added.
The death toll may rise further as firefighters continue to search the building, the spokesman said.
Television footage showed the building consumed by orange flames and issuing dark plumes of smoke, as several people stood waiting to be rescued from an outdoor terrace.
Some were seen jumping from the building onto air mattresses laid out on the ground as dozens of fire trucks and more than 100 firefighters rushed to the scene.
The blaze — believed to have started in a parking lot on the first floor — has been mostly put out, the fire agency said.
Jecheon is in central South Korea, about 120 kilometres southeast of the capital Seoul. — AFP