A fire believed set by an 81-year-old dementia patient blazed through a hospital ward for the elderly today and killed 21 people in South Korea, mostly from smoke inhalation, police and fire officials said. The fire on the second floor of the Hyosarang Hospital in Jangseong county also injured seven people. Security video showed the suspect entering the room where the blaze began, and the remains of a lighter were found in that room, police station chief Noh Kyu-ho told a televised briefing. Noh said the man, identified only by his surname, Kim, denied responsibility.
The video footage showed the fire starting to spread from that room about two minutes after Kim left, another police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity. There were 34 patients and one nurse on the hospital's second floor at the time of the blaze, and Jangseong Fire Department officials said 20 of the patients and the nurse were killed; the latter was reportedly trying to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher. The incident, which comes as South Korea reels from the ferry disaster, raised concerns about lax fire regulations—media reports noted that hospitals for the elderly are not required to have sprinklers in South Korea despite a rapidly aging population. "I've committed a grave sin," says the hospice director in apologizing, as per the BBC. "There is no excuse when valuable lives were sacrificed."