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Fire engulfs Japan’s 600-year-old World Heritage site Shuri Castle

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A 600-year-old Japanese castle has been gutted by a fire that tore through the World Heritage-protected site, reducing much of it to charred embers. 

The blaze erupted at the 14th-Century Shuri Castle, the seat of the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom, shortly after midnight local time (3pm GMT) and quickly spread through many of the wooden buildings on the site.

Tomoko Miyazato, 84, who watched Shuri Castle as it burned said: ‘For us, Shuri Castle is like a god.’  

A clip shows glowing hot ember beams as all that remain of the castle’s main hall. 

Additional aerial footage shows the entirety of the complex totally ravaged. ‘It’s just a skeleton,’ said onlooker Yabiku Taumi. ‘It’s a shock.’ 

Firefighters, accompanied by a dozen firetrucks, were still battling the fire as dawn broke on Thursday. It was unclear if anyone had been injured. 

They were called to the emergency at 2.47am local time and nearby residents were evacuated to safer areas soon after, Okinawa police spokesman Ryo Kochi said. 

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Flames can be seen licking towards the sky earlier in the morning in Japan. The news of fire began with sightings of smoke at around 2.40am when the fire brigade turned up to the castle

Flames can be seen licking towards the sky earlier in the morning in Japan. The news of fire began with sightings of smoke at around 2.40am when the fire brigade turned up to the castle

A building of the Shuri Castle is seen on fire in Naha. A castle in Okinawa listed as a World Heritage site is ablaze after castle guards noticed a security system had sparked the flames

A building of the Shuri Castle is seen on fire in Naha. A castle in Okinawa listed as a World Heritage site is ablaze after castle guards noticed a security system had sparked the flames 

Though just a city district of Naha today, Shuri was the political and administrative hub of the Ryukyu Kingdom for almost 400 years

Though just a city district of Naha today, Shuri was the political and administrative hub of the Ryukyu Kingdom for almost 400 years

‘The cause of the fire has not been determined yet but a security company alarm went off at around 2:30 in the morning,’ said Kochi.

‘It started at the main temple and looks to be spreading fast to all the main structures… Firefighters are still battling the fire,’ he added.  

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Shuri Castle is divided into five separate buildings with the Seiden, the main and largest structure, at the centre. According to local broadcaster NHK, the blaze began there and has now spread to other buildings on the complex. 

Police said that the fire has almost completely gutted the main Seiden building and the north hall, known as the Hokuden. 

According to Okinawa police, it was the castle guards who first noticed the fire.

‘I am extremely shocked by the initial reports of the fire at Shuri Castle,’ Naha Mayor Mikiko Shiroma said at an emergency meeting in the regional capital broadcast on national broadcaster NHK.

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