The main building of Shuri Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was burned down in a predawn fire in Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, local police said Thursday.
The fire started shortly before 2:40 a.m. local time at the historical castle in Naha, the prefectural capital of Okinawa. The police and local fire department said more than 10 fire engines were dispatched to bring the blaze under control.
According to authorities, the blaze has also engulfed other affiliate buildings and was finally suppressed hours later.
As the major tourist spot of Okinawa, seven wooden buildings occupying a total of 4,800 square meters were destroyed in the fire, which was extinguished at around 1:30 p.m. local time.
According to the police, security guards near the castle were alerted after a fire alarm sounded and they saw smoke billowing from the main hall.
Due to the wooden structure of the castle, the blaze quickly developed into a sea of fire during the night and engulfed the buildings.
After the fire was extinguished, remnants of black and gray ruins were left with smoke rising from the scene.
In addition to the main hall, the Hokuden north hall and Nanden south hall were completely destroyed. The three halls were not equipped with sprinklers as their installation was not mandatory, according to the local fire department.
The police, which were investigating the cause of the fire, said there were no immediate reports of injuries as a result of the inferno but more than 30 nearby residents were temporarily evacuated.
The castle staff were preparing for a festival and related events until late Wednesday night to recreate scenes from ancient rituals. None of them were believed to be present when the fire broke out, the police said.
All the gates directly connected to the Seiden hall were locked when the blaze started, they added. The festival, which was supposed to run through next Sunday, was canceled following the flame.
In a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that "Shuri Castle is an extremely important symbol for Okinawa," and the government "will do its best to reconstruct" the castle.
The castle, listed as Japan's 11th World Heritage site in December 2000, is a major tourist spot in Okinawa.
As a symbol of the Ryukyu Kingdom that ruled most of the Ryukyu Islands from the 15th to the 19th century, with kings during the era unifying Okinawa, the castle was built some 500 years ago and designated a national treasure in 1933.
Remnants of the original castle have also been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
The castle, however, was rebuilt after previously being burnt to the ground during World War II and its main hall underwent restoration in 1992.