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Suspect identified over Japan city fire

Japanese police have identified a 61-year-old man as a prime suspect behind a fire that engulfed a psychiatry clinic where he was a patient, killing at least 24 people trapped inside.

The government also announced plans to inspect all buildings nationwide.

Authorities believe the massive death toll at the eight-storey Osaka complex on Friday was largely because the fire made the building’s only emergency stairway unusable.

Osaka police identified the suspect as Morio Tanimoto. He is being treated in serious condition after he was rescued from the fire, police said.

He has not been formally arrested or charged.

After verifying security cameras and searching his home, police said they suspect Tanimoto was responsible for setting fire to the clinic, an official at the prefectural police investigation department told The Associated Press.

Authorities are investigating how the smoke filled the floor so quickly that the victims became trapped. The fire that burned just 25 square meters of the floor near the clinic’s reception was mostly extinguished within 30 minutes.

On Sunday, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yasushi Kaneko, who is also in charge of fire and disaster management, said he had instructed a nationwide inspection of about 30,000 multi-floor commercial buildings with only one stairway.

Kaneko said many victims could not escape and died because the Osaka building’s only stairway was not accessible due to the fire and they lost their way out.

He said the ministry will set up a panel of experts to discuss safety measures.

Police quoted witnesses who saw a man walking into the clinic with a paper bag, which he put on the floor, right next to a heater by the reception desk, and kicked it. Liquid poured out, caught fire and the whole floor was engulfed in flames and smoke.

Witnesses and the investigation suggested the victims gasped for air and struggled to find their way out of the clinic.

Two visitors who witnessed the beginning of the fire at the reception desk were able to run out.

Firefighters initially found 27 people in a state of cardiac arrest, including three who were resuscitated, officials said.

The clinic’s psychiatrist, Kotaro Nishizawa, has been unable to be reached since the fire.

Over the weekend, Osaka residents brought flowers, bottled water and canned drinks to the building as offerings to the spirits of the departed.

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