Hospital officials attend to a patient rescued from the
fire. REUTERS/Hyung Min-woo/Yonhap
A fire at a rural South Korean hospital for chronically
ill elderly patients has killed 21 people and injured eight in
the second major blaze this week as the country still mourns
victims of a ferry disaster last month.
The midnight blaze at the hospital in the southwest region of
Jeolla was put out relatively quickly, but most of the
victims were elderly patients unable to walk or move freely,
leading to the large number of casualties, fire officials
An 81-year-old man is in police custody and is being
questioned on suspicion of arson after he was seen on
surveillance camera walking into an empty room where the fire
is believed to have started, a police official said by
The man has been identified as a patient at the hospital and
is suffering from dementia, the official said.
All the victims were on the second floor of one building, and
most of them suffered smoke inhalation, a local fire
department official said.
The hospital held patients who required long-term care, many
with dementia or disability as a result of a stroke, local
media reports said.
South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy and a leading
manufacturing powerhouse, has developed into a vibrant and
technically advanced democracy, but it faces criticism that
regulatory controls and safety standards have not kept pace.
The country is mourning the deaths of more than 300 people
who drowned when a heavily overloaded ferry capsized and sank
on April 16, the country's worst maritime disaster in 20
A fire at a large shopping mall complex killed eight people
on Monday when smoke and toxic fumes spread rapidly. Fire
screens designed to stop the spread of fire and smoke did not
function in the relatively new building.
Later on Wednesday, there was a fire on a subway train in
Seoul after a man sprayed flammable material and lit it, but
it was put out within minutes, Yonhap news agency reported
quoting witnesses. The police have the man in custody, Yonhap
There have been two subway accidents in the past month that
left nearly 200 people injured.