SEOUL: A fire broke out in an eight-storey fitness centre in the South Korean city of Jecheon on Thursday (Dec 21), killing at least 29 people, most of them as they were taking a sauna, a fire station official said.

An AFP report said that the fire broke out at around 4pm local time (3pm Singapore time) and quickly engulfed the entire building, leaving many trapped inside. 

The fire started in a car parked on the first floor and spread, one official told Reuters. 

Twenty victims were found at a public sauna and others elsewhere in the building that houses a fitness centre, public bath and restaurants, the National Fire Agency said.

Sixteen people died in a fire that engulfed a commercial building in Jecheon on Dec 21, Yonhap reported. (Photo: AFP/Yonhap)

Television footage showed eight-storey building consumed by flames and issuing dark plumes of smoke, as several people stood waiting for help on the outdoor terrace.

Some were seen jumping from the building onto air mattresses laid out on the ground as dozens of fire trucks and more than 100 firefighters rushed to the scene.

Yonhap News said that unusually heavy smoke and toxic gas from the fire delayed the rescue operation. 

The disaster forced organisers of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics to cancel a planned torch relay event at the city on Friday, Yonhap news agency said, citing the organisers.

“We decided to cancel the event to mourn the victims,” an unnamed official at the organising committee was quoted as saying.

The fire is South Korea’s worst since 2008 when a blaze at a warehouse in the city of Icheon killed 40 workers.

President Moon Jae-In expressed regret over the accident and urged officials “utmost efforts” for rescue and search operations, his office said. 

Firefighters search for missing persons after a fire broke out in an eight-storey building in Jecheon on Dec 21, 2017. (Photo: AFP/Yonhap)

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