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Gas meter, pipes damaged by shock, investigators say

A gas meter and pipes installed near an elevator on the third floor of a building...

A gas meter and pipes installed near an elevator on the third floor of a building in the Kabukicho district of Shinjuku, Tokyo, where a disastrous fire occurred last week, were damaged by a powerful external shock, investigators said Tuesday.

They said the left side of the meter and a joint connecting the meter and a gas supply pipe were charred, and that gas from the pipe may have been ignited by burning garbage and other combustibles in the elevator hall.

The pipe on the left side of the meter supplied gas from the first floor, and the pipe at right distributed gas to the cooking room in the mah-jongg game parlor on the third floor. Both pipes were fixed with a large bolt and the meter was placed in a steel box about two meters high.

Immediately after the fire broke out, the door of the box was found open and the meter was found lying on the floor.

According to the investigators, the meter was charred and there was evidence that the joints had received an external shock. Damaged sections of the supply pipe also showed scorch marks caused by high temperatures. The bottom and back of the box were covered with black soot.

Earlier investigations concluded that the fire broke out in trash that had been placed in the area in front of the elevator. The investigators believe that the fire began at almost at the same time that the gas began leaking from the joint. It is highly likely that it ignited and the flame headed in a downward direction, they added.

But it has yet to be determined whether the blast caused the meter to fall. The Tokyo Fire Department and a special headquarters set up at Shinjuku Police Station are continuing investigations at the site. Police have not ruled out arson as the cause of the fire.