South Korean Warehouse Fire Kills 40, Official Says

A fire tore through a South Korean refrigeration warehouse under construction south of the capital Monday, killing 40 people, injuring 10 and sending toxic fumes into the air, officials said.

Kim Jung-geun, a local fire official, said late Monday that no more bodies were expected to be found at the site of the blaze in Icheon about 50 miles south of Seoul.

The exact cause of the fire, which started in the morning, was not known, Kim said. But he said that workers were injecting urethane foam into the walls of the facility in its basement when the fire started.

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Kim said it was known, however, that explosions heard at the site were caused by the fire, not the other way around.

He said that the badly burned condition of the bodies collected was making identification difficult. Only one had been positively identified so far, he said.

The fire had been mostly extinguished by late Monday night, Kim said. None of the more than 500 firefighters who battled the conflagration were injured.

Police were investigating but had to yet to find an exact cause of the fire, said a detective working on the case. He asked not to be named as the investigation was still under way.

A total of 10 people injured in the blaze were receiving treatment at local hospitals for burns and smoke inhalation, Kim said.

Cable news channel YTN showed black-clad firefighters battling thick black, brown and white smoke, some of it spewing from underground. Hoses atop fire trucks also shot water toward the building.

An official at Korea 2000, a logistics company that owns the facility, said that the building had been under construction and was intended for refrigeration purposes.

The official said workers were applying the final touches when the fire broke out. The official requested anonymity, saying company rules prohibit employees from speaking to the media.

Ha Jae-ho, a fire investigator, said on YTN that firefighters and rescue officials conducted the operation cautiously because the building might collapse.

A witness, identified only by her family name Song, told YTN that there were several huge bangs as the fire broke out, shaking the building and breaking the windows of a building next door.

Fire official Ahn Hye-wan said that the warehouse was located in an industrial district of the city. The closest homes were more than 1,640 feet away, he said.

Kim said that an evacuation order had been issued, though he had no figure for how many people were affected.

Icheon, through which some of South Korea's major highways pass, is home to Hynix Semiconductor, the world's second-largest manufacture of computer memory chips.

It was not immediately known where the death toll ranked among the worst fires in South Korea.

A total of 198 people died and 147 were injured in 2003 in the South Korean city of Daegu when an arsonist ignited a carton filled with gasoline on a six-car subway train.