Thirty-three people died after a 41-year-old man allegedly stormed into a Kyoto animation production studio Thursday and set fire to it by spraying a flammable liquid, local police and rescuers said.

In the fire that started at a studio of Kyoto Animation Co. in the city's Fushimi Ward around 10:35 a.m., 36 others have been sent to hospitals for injuries.

About 70 people were believed to have been working inside the three-story, 690-square-meter building at the time.

The unidentified man was heard screaming "Die" when he torched the studio, located in a residential area, according to the police.

(Kyoto Animation works)

The man, who was quickly apprehended, was being treated in hospital for burns on his face and chest, they said, adding he had told them he threw gasoline.

The police said they discovered metal containers for carrying liquid at the scene and had received information that a man carrying containers had bought gasoline in the morning at a gas station near the studio.

A hammer and knives were also discovered at the site which may have belonged to the man, police said.

The death toll from the fire is one of the worst in recent years in Japan.

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Building safety experts and local fire department officials said the fire and smoke may have quickly spread partly due to a spiral staircase connecting all three floors of the studio building.

People near the studio said they heard a series of explosions and saw black smoke billowing out of the building. People were later seen being carried out of the studio covered in blankets.

A 61-year-old woman in the neighborhood said she found the suspect lying on the ground around 10:35 a.m. after her doorbell rang and she opened the door.

The man, wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, had bloodied feet, and there were sparks on his clothes so she doused them with water, she said.

He told police officers who surrounded him that he started the fire by spraying the liquid and using a lighter, according to the woman.

"He spoke as if he was filled with resentment toward the entire world. He seemed to be angry at the way the police were treating him. It seemed as if he wanted to get his anger out but couldn't because his body was in pain," she said.

"It seemed as if he had a grudge against Kyoto Animation," she added.

The police have not said what his motives were.

Kyoto Animation, known as "KyoAni" in Japan, has produced popular TV animation series including "K-On!" and "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya" (Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu), which depict the daily lives of high school girls.

The company has studios in Kyoto and nearby Uji, where it is headquartered. The building in question is its 1st studio, according to the company.

The studio's head Hideaki Hatta told reporters the staffers at the studio were engaged in picture drawing, character designing and directing. The company has received threats in the past and once consulted the police, he said.

"This is deplorable and I am overwhelmed with sorrow," Hatta said. "What is the sense of using violence?"

Kota Yamaguchi, a 16-year-old high school student who lives near the studio, said the sky turned black with the smoke, and he then saw red flames coming from windows on the third floor of the building.

"Five or six injured people were lying on benches and blue sheets, looking limp, and among them was a woman bleeding from her head," Yamaguchi said. "Neighbors were busy bringing blocks of ice and drinks for the people with burns."

A 59-year-old woman who also lives nearby said, "A person with singed hair was lying down and there were bloody footprints."

"I heard a bang. Black smoke rose and the burning smell was awful," said a hair salon manager in his 30s.

Firefighters managed to contain the fire around 3:20 p.m., about five hours after it began.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said it has dispatched officials to the site to investigate the structure of the building and why so many people died or were injured.

"In the face of the large number of casualties and the shocking sight, I am at a loss for words," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a Twitter post.

Kyoto Animation, founded in 1981, has released a number of animations appealing to younger generations, particularly in the 2000s. Many fans have visited locations associated with the works.

In addition to anime production, the company's business has expanded to publishing light novels and training animators. It also sells its own products at its shop.

In 2001, a fire at a building in Tokyo's Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people. In another notable fire in 2008, 16 people died after a man set a video parlor ablaze in Osaka.