Investigators inspect Okinawan castle ruins for fire cause

ire and police investigators were inspecting the burned-out ruins of Shuri Castle on Okinawa to determine the cause of the fire that nearly destroyed the site that is a symbol of the Japanese island's cultural heritage and history of struggle.
The fire Thursday burned down the castle's three main halls and four nearby structures. It took firefighters 11 hours to extinguish the fire.
More than 130 investigators were inspecting the site Friday, according to local police and fire officials. Fire officials believe the fire started inside the Seiden, the castle's centerpiece, around 2:30 a.m. when nobody was around.
The late hour and the castle's design, with a spacious wooden main hall connected to other main buildings by hallways, might have allowed the fire to spread quickly.
Investigators were focusing on the ruins of the Seiden hall. Footage on NHK television, taken from a helicopter, showed dozens of uniformed officials wearing white helmets skimming through charred debris, putting pieces into buckets for further examination.
The castle had hydrants, alarms, portable extinguishers and water outside the buildings, based on fire prevention law. But the castle had no sprinklers installed inside the buildings, Naha fire department official Ryo Kotani said.
The fire was detected when a security guard at the castle gate closest to the main structures rushed to Seiden in response to an alarm, Kotani said. Quoting the private security worker, Katani said the guard went to the second floor of the three-story main hall and saw smoke down the hallway.
The smoke had become a blaze engulfing the hall and spreading to nearby structures when firefighters arrived about 20 minutes later.
Treasures displayed at the castle are replicas of originals safely stored elsewhere in the city, fire officials said.
Shuri Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It dates from the 1429-1879 Ryukyu Kingdom era and was restored in 1992 after being burned down during World War II.

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