Structural issues behind 2 major fires in beloved Fukuoka market: expert

Firefighters continue to spray water at Tanga Market the morning after a fire that engulfed many shops, in this photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter in the Kokurakita district of Kitakyushu on August 11, 2022. Vacant land at the top at left are where stores were burned down in a fire on April 19, 2022. (Mainichi/Yoshiyuki Hirakawa)

The second major fire to hit the beloved Tanga Market in Japan’s southwestern city of Kitakyushu in just four months has people wondering what’s behind the blazes.

Takao Sakaguchi, director of the Tokyo-based public benefit foundation Shimin Bosai Kenkyusho (SBK), said he believed structural problems were behind the fires at the market in Fukuoka Prefecture’s Kokurakita district. April 19 and August 10.

The first and second fires were in areas with dense clusters of old wooden buildings. Many stores were built right next to their neighbors, creating townhouse-like structures all covered in corrugated iron. According to Sakaguchi, former chief of the Tokyo Fire Department’s Azabu Fire Station, this type of market-wide layout may explain the common mechanics of the two large fires.

When buildings are so dense, there is very little space for firefighters to get to a fire and use their water hoses. Additionally, corrugated iron roofs do not burn, making it difficult for water sprayed on a burning structure to drain to the lower parts of the building. And because metal roofs prevented flames from rising directly into the Tanga Market blaze, they may have spread laterally to nearby structures, making the blaze larger.

“Firefighters had no choice but to spray water from a nearby wide road, which apparently makes it difficult for the fires to spread,” Sakaguchi speculated.

The Kitakyushu Fire Department had also reaffirmed the fire dangers of tight wooden buildings after the April 19 market fire. Following the incident, the department conducted on-site inspections at 105 Kitakyushu restaurants and bars in similar environments and had confirmed each establishment’s fire prevention systems by June. At Tanga Market, firefighters conducted similar drills in June to confirm initial firefighting procedures and evacuation routes with relevant parties. Fire officials were also consulting with market officials on details of fire drills that were due to take place shortly.

The fire department was alerted to the latest blaze by someone connected to a restaurant. “If every facility had been prepared for the initial fire suppression efforts based on the April blaze, they could have stopped the recent fires from spreading so widely. I wish people wouldn’t let the fires (cooking) unattended when using them,” Sakaguchi said.

(Japanese original by Maika Hyuga and Ken Nakazato, Kyushu News Department)