A blaze at an old people's home has killed nine people in Russia’s Tver region, about 170 kilometers northwest of Moscow.
In a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Kirill Nevsky, a spokesman for the regional branch of Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry, confirmed the death count and said two more people had been injured in the blaze.
"The wounded were taken to the central district hospital. There were 458 people in the building. The cause of the fire and the amount of damages caused by the fire are now being established," Nevsky said.
Preliminary indications are that the blaze might have been started by one of the residents setting himself on fire.
A spokeswoman for the Tver branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry, Daria Korovina, said investigators found a canister of flammable liquid in the room where the fire started.
The Kremlin said President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a thorough investigation, along with compensation payments for the fire victims, and said the retirement home should be rebuilt as quickly as possible.
The ITAR-TASS news agency quoted an unidentified spokesman for the Investigation Committee of the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office as saying criminal proceedings were initiated on charges of causing deliberate damage to property through arson that leads to fatalities.
Poor Safety Record
Fires occur frequently at Russia’s state-run facilities, including nursing homes. Negligence and violations of fire-safety rules have been blamed for many of the incidents.
But an Emergency Situations Ministry official in Moscow told ITAR-TASS that the facility was in proper fire-safety condition at the time of the incident. Yuri Deshevykh said annual fire-safety inspections were conducted, followed by “prompt measures” to correct any possible violations of fire-safety rules. He said the latest inspection was carried out in March.
Deshevykh said firefighters managed to put out the blaze shortly after the facility’s fire-alarm system was activated.
According to Nevsky, it took less than an hour to extinguish the fire after it was reported to firefighters.
"At 4:33 [a.m. local time], the officer on duty of the Vyshny Volochyok fire department in Tver Oblast received a report about a fire at a home for the elderly," Nevsky said.
"The first unit arrived at the site five minutes later. Upon arrival, they saw a room burning on the third floor of a seven-floor building. The fire was localized at 4:52 and fully extinguished at 5:24."
Several retirement-home fires have claimed victims in Russia in recent years.
In January 2009, 23 people died in a retirement-home blaze in the Komi Republic in northern Russia.
In November 2007, at least 30 people died in a fire at their retirement home in the Tula region of western Russia.
Also early on August 30, Interfax reported that a building of the community-based halfway house for the mentally ill in the western Ulyanovsk region caught fire. No one was reported hurt in that incident.
written by Antoine Blua in Prague, with reporting from RFE/RL's Russian Service and agency reports