A major fire that engulfed a historical marketplace in central Japan following the powerful earthquake on New Year's Day may have been caused by damage to electrical wiring, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said Thursday.

The blaze in Wajima in Ishikawa Prefecture, which took about 24 hours to bring under control, gutted about 49,000 square meters -- roughly the size of seven soccer fields. The agency surmised the fire spread rapidly due to the high concentration of old wooden buildings in the area.

Investigators found evidence of melted wires inside a house suspected to be where the fire started. It had a television and air conditioners, but devices using open flames, such as a kerosene stove, were not in use at that time, according to the agency.

Photo taken on Jan. 29, 2024, shows the Wajima marketplace and surrounding area in Ishikawa Prefecture gutted by a major fire that broke out after a massive earthquake. (Kyodo)

Electricity is often the cause of fires that follow powerful temblors, as seen in the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, as shaking could damage wiring and power cords and topple electric heating devices. Fire could also start if power outlets get wet.

The Japanese government is promoting the use of circuit breakers that automatically turn off when a temblor is detected.

The agency's research institute has yet to ascertain the precise cause of the fire in Wajima but is looking into the possibility of a short-circuit or loose connection in the damaged electrical wiring.

The blaze, first reported to fire authorities at 5:23 p.m. on Jan. 1, was finally extinguished at 5:10 p.m. on Jan. 6. The agency said efforts to tackle the fire were hampered by debris and lack of water supply.

The death toll from the magnitude 7.6-earthquake in Ishikawa Prefecture climbed to 242 as of Thursday, with Wajima seeing the loss of 103 lives.

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