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|Smoke billows from a three-story building of Kyoto Animation in a fire in Kyoto, western Japan, Thursday, Jul 18, 2019. (photo source: Kyodo News via AP)|
Police detained a 41-year-old man who poured what appeared to be petrol around the three-storey Kyoto Animation building shortly after 10am, NHK reported.
Thirty-three people were confirmed dead, an official for the Kyoto City Fire Department said.
READ: Kyoto Animation: The studio which created Silent Voice, K-On! And Haruhi Suzumiya
Fire engulfed the building as white and black smoke billowed from its charred windows. It was Japan's worst mass killing since a suspected arson attack on a Tokyo building in 2001.
Shiro Misaki, a 47-year old owner of a neighbourhood bar five minutes from studio, said he was driving nearby when he saw the thick smoke.
"Policemen were stopping traffic and it was really hazy with smoke," he said. "Even after I got back to my restaurant I could smell the smoke."
According to local media, around 70 people were believed to have been in the building where Kyoto Animation's studio is located.
Some of the victims were found in the studio, some on the third floor and others in a staircase leading up to the roof, a fire official said. Another 36 were injured, 10 of them seriously, the official said.
The suspected arsonist was injured and was being treated in hospital, so police could not question him, NHK said.
The building's facade was charred black on much of one side where the flames had burned out of the windows.
"I saw people who were totally black or covered in blood, or who had suffered burns all over their body," a 53-year-old woman told the Kyodo news agency.
"I heard two loud bangs, they sounded like explosions," a man told NHK. "The fire was raging hard. I saw red flames flaring."
A woman living nearby told Kyodo news agency she had seen at least one injured person outside the building. "A person with singed hair was lying down and there were bloody footprints," the 59-year-old told the local news outlet.
"Callers reported having heard a loud explosion from the first floor of Kyoto Animation and seeing smoke," a fire department spokesman said.
He added 35 fire engines and other firefighting vehicles were deployed to the site.
"TOO APPALLING FOR WORDS"
The incident was "too appalling for" words, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Twitter, as he offered condolences to the victims. "It's so dreadful that I'm lost for words," he wrote.
"I pray for those who passed away."
Kyoto Animation's president Hideaki Hatta told reporters "there have been emails with death threats". without giving further details.
He said the building gutted by the blaze was "the core of the company".
"It's unbearable that those who have led Japan's animation industry were hurt and lost their lives."
The blaze prompted an outpouring of support from those in Japan's anime industry, one of the country's best known cultural exports.
"No, I don't know what I should be thinking now," tweeted Yutaka Yamamoto, an animation director who once worked at Kyoto Animation.
"Why, why, why?"
An online fundraiser organised by an American anime licensing firm raised over US$170,000 within hours of being set up.
Kyoto Animation has been in operation since 1981, and is known as a producer of high quality animation. These include TV series The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and K-On!.
The studio's series adaptation of the Tsurune novel, written by Kotoko Ayano, recently completed airing on public broadcaster NHK.