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11 killed in Japan after fire at welfare home

Firefighters work at the scene of a fire in Sapporo, northern Japan, early Thursday PICTURE: Yuya Shino/Kyodo News via AP
Mari Yamaguchi

A FIRE has engulfed a home for welfare recipients in northern Japan, killing 11 people and injuring three, officials said.

Fire department officials said the residents were in their 40s to 80s, although most were elderly.

The fire broke out before midnight on Wednesday in Sapporo, the main city on the northern island of Hokkaido.

Five residents were rescued and three are being treated in hospital for injuries that are not life-threatening, police said.

The three-storey building was a "quite old" former inn rented by the operator of the Social Heim facility and did not have sprinklers, which were not required, fire department official Hiroyuki Sato said.

Police have identified the 11 victims as eight men and three women. All 16 residents have been accounted for, said a police official.

Noriyoshi Fujimoto, head of the support group that operates the dormitory, said he regretted it had no sprinklers. "I wish we had made the facility more properly equipped," he told Fuji News Network.

Most of the residents received welfare and paid 36,000 yen (£230) for monthly rent, Kyodo News agency said.

It added that some of the residents needed nursing care but the facility was unstaffed at night.

Footage on public broadcaster NHK showed flames and smoke pouring out the building as firefighters battled the blaze.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Fire department officials said the damage was worst at the centre of the first floor, where the kitchen, bathrooms and several guest rooms were. More single rooms were on the second floor.

The number of low-rent dorms has surged in ageing Japan, often catering to the elderly poor and sometimes without adequate safety or hygienic conditions.

More than 30,000 welfare recipients lived at nearly 1,800 such facilities in 2015, about two-thirds of them unauthorised, according to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

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