Explosion at Sagami Depot Army facility near Tokyo draws criticism from Japanese
By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 25, 2015
YOKOHAMA, Japan — The Army is investigating an explosion at Sagami Depot outside Tokyo amid calls from Japanese officials to take further steps to minimize the chances of future accidents.
Initial findings deemed it unlikely that criminal activity started the warehouse explosion early Monday, the Army said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. No injuries were reported.
The 12:45 a.m. explosion produced fireballs and streaking flames visible far from the depot in Sagamihara city, which is 34 miles from Tokyo Station. The fire smoldered for more than six hours before dying out, Army and Japanese fire officials said.
The explosion set off dozens of fire extinguishers and pressurized oxygen canisters stored inside the building, Army officials said.
The Army initially said some canisters contained Freon and nitrogen, but further inquiries ruled that out, officials said Tuesday.
After the explosion, U.S. Army Garrison Japan ordered its units to conduct safety checks at the depot, home to about 500 Japanese and 300 U.S. personnel.
“Commanders were instructed to double-check their storage facilities while the investigation continues to determine the cause of the explosion,” Army spokesman Lt. Col. Kevin Toner said Tuesday.
Sagamihara Mayor Toshio Kayama called on the U.S. military to provide a thorough response to the explosion during a Monday meeting with Col. William Johnson, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Japan.
“Such an accident at the depot, which is located in an urban area, caused great fear to residents in the surrounding community and threatened the safety of citizens,” according to a transcript of Kayama’s statement to Johnson. “The city of Sagamihara files a strong protest and calls for a prompt investigation into the cause of the accident and release of the findings to the public.”
The explosion occurred in a warehouse about 500 yards from the fence line of the facility, which is across from the city’s main train station.
Base and Sagamihara city firefighters let the blaze burn out rather than fight it with water because of uncertainty about the approximately 9,700-square-foot building’s contents. The fire posed no threat to nearby structures, officials said.
The Army plans to share the final investigation report with the Japanese government, but did not set a timetable for its release.
“The length of investigations vary, and we will take as much time as necessary to try to determine the probable cause of the explosion,” the Army said Tuesday.
The Japanese government called on the Army to improve its storage processes.
“This (incident) caused concerns to the people living in the neighborhood,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference. “As to the root cause analysis and prevention mechanisms for the future, the Japanese government strongly requests to enhance measures going forward.”
Sagami Depot — about seven miles from Camp Zama, home to thousands of U.S. soldiers and Japan Self-Defense Forces personnel — opened in 1935 as a Japanese army arsenal. The U.S. Army took over the property in 1945 and uses it as a storage and logistics facility.
The roughly 500-acre property includes 86 acres of U.S.-Japanese joint-use land, and 25 acres dedicated to a public park. In July, Army officials said the U.S. had returned 42 acres of Sagami Depot to Japan last year that had been used for Army family housing.
The remains of a storage facility at the U.S. Army's Sagami Depot outside Tokyo are seen Aug. 24, 2015, after a fire burned for hours earlier that morning. U.S. Army and Japanese Defense Ministry officials concluded in a Nov. 1, 2016 report that a faulty valve or gasket on an oxygen tank stored in the facility was the most likely cause of the fire.
JAMES KIMBER/STARS AND STRIPES