Saturday, November 29

our lady of the angels fire 95 students killed 50th anniversary --

our lady of the angels fire 95 students killed 50th anniversary --
On Dec. 1, 1958, a fire consumed Our Lady of the Angels grade school on the West Side of Chicago, killing 92 children and three nuns.

A wire story from that day captured a fragment of the desperation:

"Max Stachura stood outside the burning building, begging his little boy, Mark, 9, to jump into his arms. Children were falling all about the father and he caught or stopped the fall of 12 of them. But little Mark was too frightened or he didn't understand his father. Mark didn't jump."

Fifty years later, Mark's mother has the day in crisp focus, and adds a missing detail.

As Mark stood at that second-floor window, fire to his back, he held a small statue in his hand and waved it proudly through the black smoke, hoping his father would notice. Mark had won the statue that day — a figure of an infant Jesus — for being first to answer a quiz question.

"I guess he was just so proud of that prize," said Mary Stachura, now in a retirement home in Bartlett. "I don't think he really understood what was happening."

Few of the children trapped in the school could have grasped the enormity of the danger they faced, and few of the panicky adults on the ground — parents and neighbors and firefighters — had time to reflect. They acted, grabbing ladders of all lengths from garages, reaching through broken windows to haul small, waterlogged bodies from the flames.

Max Stachura watched as other children pushed his son back, away from the window and into the flames. The boy was later identified by a homework sheet crumpled in his pocket.

Max rarely spoke of that day. He died suddenly of a heart attack at 52.

"He was much too young," said Mary, now 85. "That fire. It changed everything."

The fire at Our Lady of the Angels remains one of the worst tragedies in Chicago's history, a ghastly few hours on a cold, sunny afternoon that shattered families and knocked a hopeful, growing community forever off its path.

The cause of the fire was never officially determined, and no one was held accountable. Some parents who lost a child--or children-- found ways to blame each other and wound up divorced. Others sold their tidy two flats and moved away, hastening the flight of the middle class from the city's West Side.

"It seems as though people just couldn't get far enough away," said Jill Grannan, a curator at the Chicago History Museum. "That school and that parish is one that had a lot of people. It had a growing population. There was such a boom, and then people really just had to leave.

"I don't think the community ever really came back."

Few in the neighborhood now would recall the blaze. But for parents and firefighters, journalists and now-grown schoolchildren, the memories remain etched in intricate detail.

Steve Lasker, then a photographer for The Chicago American newspaper, was driving along Grand Avenue, heading to his newsroom after an assignment in Elmwood Park. He heard a call come over a radio tuned to the police frequency: "They're jumping out the windows!"

"But I didn't know where it was," Lasker said. A fire engine cut in front of him and he quickly turned to follow. He parked on Iowa Street and headed toward the smoke, stopping abruptly when he saw the school on Avers Avenue in flames.

"I froze for a few seconds, or maybe it was minutes, I don't know, I couldn't tell," said Lasker, now 78. "Oh my God, there's still kids in there. Mayhem was going on and they started pulling kids out of there left and right."

From atop a fire truck, Lasker shot one of the most iconic photos of the day. It showed a helmeted firefighter, his face drawn in sorrow, carrying the soaking wet, lifeless body of 10-year-old John Jajkowski Jr. from the building.

Just 28 and the father of a 6-month-old girl, Lasker felt his stomach churn as he watched the rescue through the lens of his camera. The cold wind froze tracks of tears on his face. Though many photos were published, 20 years would pass before he would voluntarily show them to anyone.

Click the title above to read the rest of the story.

Building Tribes

Create Your Communications Experience: Transformational Election - Transformational Speech!

What makes a good speech?
Read the discussion below on President-Elect Obama's acceptance speech. (Click the title above to go directly to the website.) Which of these factors can you incorporate into your next speech?

Create Your Communications Experience: Transformational Election - Transformational Speech!
A rare moment of opportunity and execution came together in the Presidential Election and the victory speech. The election itself was transformational - that's not for this blog to expound as there are enough others talking, blogging and twittering over that major event.

Barack Obama gave a once in a decade speech in accepting the Presidency. He has an incredible ability to move people with oratory in both his behavior and content - and he took advantage of that when he had his most important audience of perhaps hundreds of millions of people across the world.

* Presidential: He looked and spoke like a President. Whether you voted for him or not, if you weren't impressed you were not looking and listening. He did all the right things, under pressure.

* All About You: He talked about the people of his campaign, the people of his country, and the people who did not vote for him. He did not gloat, but he spoke as one who wanted to unite. This speech was not about him.

* On Point: He had a Point Of View, and stayed on message - just as his campaign did. It was all about change. Change from a country of slavery to a country where a black man could be elected President. Change from a broken country to a healing country. It was a disciplined speech, just as he ran a disciplined campaign.

* Story: He used his usual picturesque language, and had a great story of Ann Nixon Cooper, a 106 year old woman from Atlanta who waited to vote for 4 hours. She was born a generation from slavery, and when women couldn't vote, couldn't drive and couldn't fly. Powerful contrasts to today, and the task at hand.

* Likability: This is one of the most important factors in communicating - and determines most elections by influencing the undecideds. Barack Obama has the unique quality of being both Presidential and likable. He is measured (actually professorial), easy going yet energetic. He smiles, has an open face and appears thoughtful (a listener). His personality and ability to connect with eyes, gesture and voice is impressive, and certainly helped him influence the vote in his favor. And those behaviors all came to the fore in this memorable speech.

There is more, and there are some things he could do better. But that's for another time. Tonight is President-elect Obama's night - and he took advantage of the opportunity to bring others along with him. That's what a great speech does.

Wednesday, November 19

The Associated Press: Astronaut who lost tool bag admits making mistake

The Associated Press: Astronaut who lost tool bag admits making mistake
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The astronaut who lost her tool bag on a spacewalk admitted Wednesday that she made a mistake by not checking to see if the sack was tied down, and said she's still smarting over the whole thing.

Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper said in an interview with The Associated Press that it was "very disheartening" to lose her bag full of tools. She was trying to clean up grease that had oozed out of a grease gun in the backpack-size bag, when the tote and everything in it floated away Tuesday.

The bag was one of the largest items ever lost by a spacewalking astronaut.

For a split second, she thought she might be able to grab it and she tried to judge how far away it was. Just as quickly, "I thought, no, that would probably just make things worse and the best thing to do would be to just let it go."

"There's still the psychological thing of knowing that we made a mistake and having to live through that," she said. "During the spacewalk ... it was easy to put it aside because I knew that we still had five hours of spacewalk work to do and the work needed to get done and you can't dwell on a mistake. It was hardest coming back in and having to face everybody else."

Click the title above to read the rest of the story.

Firefighter's stand saves homes of former neighbors

Los Angeles County Fire Capt. David Yonan arrived at the Oakridge Mobile Home Park to find it mostly destroyed. His perseverance helped save 131 homes.

Read Capt Yonan's story by clicking the title above. This story made me think of The Starfish Story printed below. Capt. Yonan's actions made the difference.

What difference will YOU- or do you- make in your career? What difference can you make today?

The Starfish Story
adapted from The Star Thrower
by Loren Eiseley (1907 - 1977)

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."

"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one."

Wildfires: Did low water pressure hinder the fight?

Residents in Yorba Linda and Sylmar had complained of poor flow for years. But some officials say no system is designed to handle the kind of demand that arose over the weekend.
By Jeff Gottlieb and Tony Barboza
November 19, 2008
Residents of Yorba Linda, where fire destroyed 118 homes, had complained for years of poor water pressure, a problem that may have made it more difficult for firefighters to beat back the weekend blaze that tore through the upscale community.

In Sylmar, where about 500 mobile homes burned to the ground, fire officials said they were investigating reports of lack of water pressure there. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power supplies water to the Oakridge Mobile Home Park property line, but inside, the water system belongs to the park.

In both areas, residents and some officials were openly discussing whether the lack of water pressure complicated the already monumental task that firefighters faced.

Fire officials in Sylmar are checking to see if their department had inspected the mobile home park hydrants as required in the last year, said Craig Fry, assistant fire marshal for the Los Angeles Fire Department.

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he was at the mobile home park after the fire burned through on Saturday, and firefighters told him that hydrants had stopped working and they were forced to use their water tenders instead.

"We would have had a fair shot if the pressure hadn't gone down," said Battalion Chief Fred Mathis, as he sat in his firetruck in the mobile home park Saturday.

A representative of the company that owns the park, Continental Mobile Housing, said he was busy at Oakridge and did not have time to talk.

Farther south, Ken Vecchiarelli, assistant general manager of the Yorba Linda Water District, said its hydrant system was built to fight fires involving a few houses, not a firestorm.

"This was the type of thing any system in any community was not designed for," he said.

At a packed meeting at Yorba Linda City Hall on Tuesday night, residents, many of whose homes had burned, expressed anger.

"I was told when they [firefighters] got to the top of our street, they turned back because there was no water pressure," said Diane Manista, whose house burned down in the hard-hit neighborhood of Hidden Hills.

"The fire hydrant in front of our house has a bag on it and wasn't even working. It's beyond words."

Click the link above for the rest of the story.

Bonfire built by students caused Montecito fire, sheriff says

The students did it!! Say it aint so.....Click the link above for the full story, or enjoy the video...

5 years old and she dribbles...better then you!

This has nothing to do with fire prevention. But OMG watch this little girl do her thing...and then realize, you are probably not worthy! lol. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 18 - Tough fire standards pay off in Calif. subdivision - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News - Tough fire standards pay off in Calif. subdivision - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News
BREA, Calif. — The hillsides ringing the luxury development of Olinda Ranch are blackened, but the neatly tended stucco homes are intact. Fickle wind direction helped, but so did stringent fire-resistant construction and landscaping standards.

Increasingly, new construction in tinderbox regions of Southern California are built with "shelter-in-place" techniques designed to allow people to stay safely in their homes if they can't escape flames.

At Olinda Ranch, what look from afar like tile roofs actually are concrete. The eaves on the 3,500-square-foot homes are boxed in so wind-whipped embers can't lodge and send the whole house up in flames. Outside, brush can't be too close to the structure. Inside, sprinklers sit above every room and in the hallways.

The construction boosted the confidence of residents like Linda Johnson, who on Saturday watched nervously as flames edged toward the 6-year-old neighborhood of 660 homes.

By dawn Sunday, Johnson was out driving, checking the scene with a friend and her bichon frise, Teddy Bear. She glittered in the morning sun, having had donned all her diamonds in case she needed to flee. Instead, she spent an anxious night in her house.

"It's your home, it's your life, it's your history," Johnson said. "It's just really hard to walk away from that."

Tony Ross also stayed put. He owns a fire extinguisher company, so he knows a little about flames.

"After last night, I know all about it," he said.

He could smile because, save for a scattering of ash that he continued to hose down, his house was fine.

Ross said one of the threatening fires started on the hillside right beyond his back yard, where idle white metal oil derricks, relics from when the area was an oil boomtown, now stand in stark contrast to the charred ground.

He was preparing to pressure-wash his side path when he heard a boom. Soon he saw flames. Raging Santa Ana winds pushed the flames across the hillside so fast that they only blackened the few trees _ the fire wasn't there long enough to engulf them.

Ross' wife left, but he stayed. During the night, flames from another fire started to bear down from the east but stopped on the development's edge, thanks to crews that worked through the night. Behind them, those flames engulfed several homes in a canyon that connects eastern Orange County with western San Bernardino County.

When wildfires ravaged San Diego County a year ago, the community of Rancho Santa Fe was largely unscathed even though it was in the midst of some of the worst flames. The suburb lost 53 houses, but none in the five subdivisions that embraced "shelter-in-place" restrictions.

Rancho Santa Fe and Olinda Ranch stood in stark contrast to the Oakridge Mobile Home Park, a neatly kept community of modular homes in the San Fernando Valley in northern Los Angeles. A fire whipped by 70-mph Santa Ana winds wiped out 500 homes early Saturday. Unlike Olinda Ranch, the grounds of Oakridge were filled with flammable cypress and eucalyptus trees that lit up like torches.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger toured the burned-out community Sunday and said it's evidence that new construction techniques are sorely needed.

"We should start thinking about building ... mobile homes with the same fire-retardant materials" as modern subdivisions, he said.

Monday, November 17

Water pressure hampered Yorba Linda fire fight | L.A. Now | Los Angeles Times

Water pressure hampered Yorba Linda fire fight | L.A. Now | Los Angeles Times

Orange County Fire Capt. Bill Lockhart said the fire crew he was working with Saturday afternoon in Yorba Linda had difficulties with water pressure.

On Fairmont Boulevard about 5 p.m. Saturday, he said, "We had a 'dry hydrant', where we hooked up to it and nothing came out." So the crew moved along to the next available hydrant, which worked. "It delayed things a bit, but we were able to make it happen," he said.

Speaking to a resident of Big Horn Mountain Way, whose Yorba Linda home was destroyed and who voiced concerns about reports of poor water pressure, Lockhart also gave a general explanation of the problem.

"Typically the pressure is good if we're fighting a fire at one single family home," he said. "But when we have a profound incident, when there's multiple demands, not everything works right."

Lockhart said calling the local water district would also reveal what sort of water pressure problems they were dealing with Saturday.

--Tony Barboza

Friday, November 14

3 Chicago teens drown during leadership retreat | National news | - Houston Chronicle

3 Chicago teens drown during leadership retreat | National news | - Houston Chronicle
ALGONQUIN, Ill. — Three Chicago teens who apparently sneaked away from a school-sponsored camp retreat to paddle along a nearby river drowned early Friday. Their paddle boats — missing floor plugs already removed for the winter — quickly took on water and sank.

Chaperones at the leadership retreat were likely asleep when a group of students launched four or five paddle boats into the Fox River, said John Greene, battalion chief of the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District.

It was not clear how many teens ended up in the water.

"Shenanigans," Greene said. "That's what it looks like."

McHenry County coroner's office identified one of the students as 17-year-old Melvin Choice. Authorities have not released the identities of the other two.

Two of the boys were seniors and one was a junior at North Lawndale College Prep, a charter school on Chicago's West Side, said Julie Didier, a spokeswoman for the fire protection district.

Police responded at 2 a.m. to a 911 call that three teens were reported missing.

Authorities said after one boat quickly took on water, two boys on the shore went into the river to try to rescue a student, but soon they too went missing.

Robert Williams said his son was on the shore and unsuccessfully tried to swim toward the boys.

"He did all he could to try to save them, but he couldn't do it," Williams said.

The boats on the river were taken out of service for the season by having their bottom plugs removed, Didier said.

A total of 31 students were participating in the eight-day retreat at Camp Algonquin that was to end Friday. Officials say there were four chaperones, all of them teachers from North Lawndale, which has not responded to telephone calls for comment.

Fire destroys 100+ homes, injures 4 in SoCal town - Yahoo! News

Fire destroys 100+ homes, injures 4 in SoCal town - Yahoo! News
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Firefighters were racing early Friday to push back a wind-whipped wildfire that destroyed at least 100 homes and a college dormitory, injured four people and forced thousands to flee the longtime celebrity hideaway of Montecito.

The fire broke out just before 6 p.m. Thursday and spread to about 2,500 acres — nearly 4 square miles — by early Friday, destroying dozens of luxury homes and parts of a college campus in the foothills of Montecito, just southeast of Santa Barbara. About 5,400 homes in the tony community of 14,000 residents were evacuated and more people could be forced to flee if the fire spreads, said Nicole Koon, a spokeswoman with the Santa Barbara County Executive Office.

"We believe 100 plus homes have been destroyed," Koon said. "It's our best guess at the moment because it's dark. We're not counting as much as trying to protect the homes."

At Westmont College, a Christian liberal arts college nestled amid wooded rolling hills, some 1,000 students were caught off-guard by the rapidly moving flames.
(click the link above for the rest of the story)

Thursday, November 13

A Depression-Style California State Budget - California Progress Report

A Depression-Style California State Budget - California Progress Report
As the ongoing horror show that is the daily financial news continues to lurch from one gut-wrenching revelation to another, and journalists and commentators increasingly compare the current financial crisis to the Great Depression of the 1930s, it is time look at some facets of that earlier era to gain an insight into what the folks in Sacramento could be up against.

The current crisis, which started in the real estate sector, is now expanding across the economy, and it appears that no market is safe. Starting with the crash in auction-rate securities, state and locals bonds became vulnerable as well as government pension funds. CalPERS’s investment portfolio is estimated to be down 20 per cent.

Across the country states are cutting back cost-of living adjustments and general benefits while asking contributors to up their contribution to the various funds. Debt at all levels continues to increase and not just in California. New Jersey’s outstanding debt increased 6 percent this year and has tripled in the past decade. Municipal bond prices are crashing in Michigan. New York City is rolling back a property tax cut and cutting 3,000 workers to plug a $4 billion deficit.

In California, the accumulated deficit in the next 18 months is expected to be in the range of $25 billion, with another $20 billion from 2010 onward. The new Legislative Analyst has declared that the state’s financial situation can not be solved by just spending cuts or tax increases—it will take both. No wonder Governor Schwarzenegger is eying a job in the Obama administration to get out from under this mess.

But just how bad could things get, and what could we really be looking at if the state has to confront a depression-style budget? One of the most famous episodes from that era in California was the 1931 threat by movie mogul Louis B. Mayer to have the state exempt theater tickets from sales tax or the studios would move out of state. The threat worked. That is why there is no sales tax on theater tickets today. Also in 1931, Nevada legalized gambling to avoid going bankrupt.

But other stories probably convey the level of desperation of those times more personally. Like the famous Literary Digest presidential poll in 1936, which showed Alf Landon defeating Franklin D Roosevelt when in fact, Roosevelt won in one of the greatest political landslides in US history. The reason for the skewed poll was that it was an early telephone poll, and in 1936, only well-to-do Republicans supporting Landon could afford telephones. In my father’s family, the telephone service was disconnected, just as it was in many households. A recent story on the Depression in the Washington Post discussed how the Depression first entered American households, such as the day people switched from electric lighting to cheaper kerosene lamps, the day beans replaced beef on the dinner table, and the day extended family members moved in. The most grisly story in the article was in 1932 in Detroit, when the city shut down its zoo and slaughtered its animals to provide food for a starving population.

Now it is hard to conceive of such an appalling event happening at a California zoo today, but what all these Depression-era moments convey is how things we take for granted simply disappeared and how radically for the worse life changed for Americans at that time. The country of the late 1940s would have been almost unrecognizable to people of the 1920s. In fact, people of the 1950s have more in common with people of today than they did to people of just a few years earlier— the change brought on by the Depression and World War II was that great.

This is what awaits Americans of this era and the state budget. The governor and the legislators will be faced with making decisions that would have been inconceivable just a year ago for a state that in a few years will be unrecognizable to its current inhabitants. As the Democratic legislators convene in Sacramento, they, along with their Republican opponents, will have to determine which items will be the equivalent of the 1932 Detroit Zoo in the 2009 California budget. Let’s hope that the financial carnage will not be as gruesome as the animal carnage was seventy-five years ago.

Budget Cuts Threaten Over 250,000 Community College Students

Budget Cuts Threaten Over 250,000 Community College Students
SACRAMENTO, CA Nov. 13, 2008 - Budget cuts proposed last week will cause community colleges to turn away 262,845 current students if implemented, analysis released today by the Community College League of California shows. The loss of a quarter of a million students is the equivalent of closing the University of California.

The state's rising unemployment rate and decisions by the California State University to limit enrollment will likely lead to even more students finding the doors to higher education closed.

California's community colleges are seeing skyrocketing enrollments as Californians return to college amid high unemployment to retrain for the changing economy. The Department of Finance is now estimating that another 400,000 Californians will be jobless by 2010 as the unemployment increases from 7.7% to 9.7%.

Meanwhile, a poll released today by the Public Policy Institute of California finds that 66% of Californians believe community colleges are doing an "excellent" or "good" job, putting the two-year colleges on par with the California State University and University of California. However, 83% of the public is concerned that the state's budget gap will cause significant spending cuts in higher education, and 68% believe that more funding is needed to provide "major improvements" to California's higher education system.

"California's community colleges are our state's best economic stimulus," said Scott Lay, president and chief executive officer of the Community College League of California. "We must decide now to make the investment needed to emerge from this downturn with a more equipped and knowledgeable workforce that translates into quality jobs for our taxpayers and a stronger economy."

With 110 accredited colleges and more than 200 locations throughout California, community colleges serve over 1.7 million students each term from nearly every community in the state.

The Community College League of California is a nonprofit public benefit corporation whose voluntary membership consists of the 72 local community college districts in California. The League promotes student access and success by strengthening colleges through leadership development, advocacy, policy development and district services.

Estimated Impact of Proposed Special Session Cuts

District Projected Impact

Allan Hancock $2,800,000
Antelope Valley $3,300,000
Barstow $900,000
Butte $3,100,000
Cabrillo $3,500,000
Cerritos $4,900,000
Chabot-Las Positas $5,100,000
Chaffey $4,300,000
Citrus $3,300,000
Coast $10,300,000
Compton $1,100,000
Contra Costa $9,200,000
Copper Mt. $600,000
Desert $2,300,000
El Camino $5,900,000
Feather River $600,000
Foothill-DeAnza $9,600,000
Gavilan $1,600,000
Glendale $4,500,000
Grossmont-Cuyamaca $5,400,000
Hartnell $2,000,000
Imperial $2,000,000
Kern $6,100,000
Lake Tahoe $700,000
Lassen $600,000
Long Beach $6,200,000
Los Angeles $29,900,000
Los Rios $15,400,000
Marin Local tax sustaining
Mendocino-Lake $1,000,000
Merced $2,900,000
Mira Costa Local tax sustaining
Monterey Peninsula $2,300,000
Mt. San Antonio $8,100,000
Mt. San Jacinto $3,100,000
Napa Valley $1,800,000
North Orange County $9,500,000
Ohlone $2,600,000
Palo Verde $700,000
Palomar $5,600,000
Pasadena Area $6,500,000
Peralta $6,100,000
Rancho Santiago $8,300,000
Redwoods $1,600,000
Rio Hondo $3,800,000
Riverside $7,900,000
San Bernardino $4,100,000
San Diego $11,700,000
San Francisco $10,000,000
San Joaquin Delta $4,700,000
San Jose-Evergreen $4,500,000
San Luis Obispo $2,800,000
San Mateo $5,600,000
Santa Barbara $4,500,000
Santa Clarita $4,300,000
Santa Monica $5,600,000
Sequoias $2,400,000
Shasta-Tehama-Trinity $2,200,000
Sierra $4,500,000
Siskiyou $900,000
Solano $2,700,000
Sonoma $5,800,000
South Orange Local tax sustaining
Southwestern $4,600,000
State Center $8,000,000
Ventura $7,900,000
Victor Valley $2,800,000
West Hills $1,800,000
West Kern $1,200,000
West Valley-Mission $4,800,000
Yosemite $5,000,000
Yuba $2,500,000

Total: $332,200,000

* Based on 2007-08 Second Principle Apportionment. Actual amounts would vary based on final calculations.

Estimated Impact of Proposed Special Session Cuts
** Local tax sustaining districts do not receive general support from the state and thus would not be included in a reduction
in cost-of-living adjustment or general

Gunpowder blast shrouds Tokyo in smoke - Telegraph

Gunpowder blast shrouds Tokyo in smoke - Telegraph
Teams of firemen battled to get the blaze under control after it destroyed two buildings and left four other people injured, officials at the Tokyo Fire Department said.

Shinichi Yokoyama, 60, who was among the injured, said the blast occurred when he was mixing gunpowder, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported.

His company supplies explosives for gunfire scenes in film and television productions and stores its product in quantity at its business premises in downtown Tokyo.

About 60 fire engines and more than 100 firemen rushed to the scene to fight back the flames and hose down the smoking buildings, the fire department said.

Plumes of smoke could be seen from several miles away some time after the accident.

Explosions at gunpowder and fireworks factories are not common in Japan, but in China - where manufacturing standards are not as stringent - there have been dozens of incidents in recent years. They have often resulted in a high number of deaths.

Jilted lover accidentally blows up building - Yahoo! News

Jilted lover accidentally blows up building - Yahoo! News
BERLIN (Reuters) – A German charged with murder for causing a gas explosion that destroyed half an apartment building and killed his neighbor, told a court Wednesday he was only trying to kill himself because he was lovesick.

The 22-year old on trial in Moenchengladbach, western Germany, said he had opened the natural gas taps in his apartment intending to commit suicide after his girlfriend broke up with him by phone.

When the 17-year old later arrived to pick her belongings up from his flat, she unwittingly lit a cigarette which ignited the gas and blew up half of the building, injuring 15 people and killing a 45-year old neighbor.

The 22-year-old man and his ex-girlfriend survived the blast. Ralf Wolters, a court spokesman, said the man said he did not realize there was a risk of explosion.

Wolters said the 22-year-old was charged with murder, attempted murder and grievous bodily harm.

(Reporting by Josie Cox; Editing by Matthew Jones)