South Korea Fire: 29 Dead After Eight-Storey Fitness Centre Erupts in Flames

A fire in an eight-storey fitness centre in the scenic South Korean city of Jecheon has killed at least 29 people, most of them as they were taking a sauna, officials say.

It was unclear what caused the fire but it likely began at the building’s parking lot, according to fire officials.

The local fire station said at least 12 women and three men were known to have died. Thirteen bodies were unrecognisable.

The fire station official said most of the victims were found in the sauna, and the main cause of death was suffocation rather than burns.

A Jecheon fire department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the toll could rise as rescuers continued to search the building after putting out the fire.

He said many of the people who died had been using a public bath on the second and third floors, which made it harder for them to escape.

Heavy smoke charred the glass facades of the building as firefighters struggled to extinguish the blaze, some climbing up and down a ladder in desperate search of survivors.

Local news channel YTN said President Moon Jae-in voiced deep sorrow for so many deaths, while Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon vowed to expedite rescue efforts to try to minimise the number of dead and injured.

Organisers for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics said the Olympic torch relay had been scheduled to pass through Jecheon on Friday, but the route has been revised because of the tragedy.

Local media showed firefighters battling the blaze with trucks and helicopters, and a man jumping from a window as firefighters held a mattress below.

The building had several restaurants and leisure facilities, including a gym, the public bath and an indoor golf practice facility, the officials said.