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At Least 15 Die In Russian Fire

Burning retirement home in the Komi Republic
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- At least 15 people died and seven were injured when a three-storey wooden hostel erupted in flames in southern Russia, local emergency officials have said.

"The house has burned out fast, like a box of matches," an official with the emergencies committee of Astrakhan region said by telephone.

He said the fire, in a hostel built for local workers but inhabited by nearly 80 squatters, broke out late on February 14 in the town of Molodyozhny. The cause was not immediately clear.

Russian media said the hostel was closed after an official commission found its condition dangerous for residents and electricity was switched off, but squatters reconnected it using makeshift wiring.

Fires in old buildings are not unusual in Russia, especially during winter when heaters are being used.

Twenty-three people died on January 31 when fire destroyed a retirement home in the northern region of Komi. President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered checks on retirement homes, hostels, and schools across the country.