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9 die as Russia suffers second deadly clinic fire

Nine patients of a clinic for the mentally ill in Siberia died in a fire Sunday, a day after a blaze at a Moscow drug treatment center killed 45, officials said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Nine patients of a clinic for the mentally ill in Siberia died in a fire Sunday, a day after a blaze at a Moscow drug treatment center killed 45, officials said.

The accidents underlined widespread neglect for fire safety rules in Russia, which records about 18,000 fire deaths a year — several times the rate in the United States.

The fire in the psychiatric hospital in the town of Taiga in central Siberia, about 2,200 miles east of Moscow, began shortly after midnight local time.

Nine patients of the clinic died and 15 were hospitalized, said Valery Korchagin, a spokesman for the regional branch of Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry. About 200 other patients weren’t hurt, he said.

Russian television stations showed the hospital’s two-story building engulfed by fire and a line of half-dressed patients treading through a blizzard. A rescue worker carried one patient, clad in pajamas, who was unable to walk.

Korchagin said that hospital officials tried to extinguish the blaze on their own and were slow to report it to officials. “They only reported it 1 1/2 hours after the fire started,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Korchagin said that some patients suffered fractures as they jumped out of the windows, and some received burns.

Prosecutors weigh arson as cause
The cause of the fire wasn’t immediately clear, he said. Local prosecutors were considering arson as the cause of the fire, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

There was another fire Saturday at another mental clinic in the village of Troyanovo in the Tver region, about 120 miles northwest of Moscow, but rescuers quickly evacuated its 300 patients and no one was hurt, said Arsen Grigorian, the head of the local Emergency Situations Ministry’s branch.

In the fire in Moscow early Saturday, 45 women died at a drug treatment center when they were trapped behind locked gates and barred windows.

“Judging by the placement of the bodies, they really tried to get out,” said Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Alexander Chupriyan. He said all 45 victims — reportedly 43 patients and two staffers — were dead by the time firefighters arrived.

The fire erupted in a wooden cabinet in a kitchen at one end of a second-floor corridor, officials said. The main exit was blocked by a locked gate that staff members could not open in time, and the only other way out was cut off by smoke, Russia’s chief fire inspector Yuri Nenashev said.

Officials said 160 people were evacuated from the five-story building, and the prosecutor’s office said 12 people were hospitalized.

Security measures harsh
Security measures are severe at this and other similar institutions in Russia because authorities fear some drug addicts might try to flee. Nenashev said he was “90 percent certain” the blaze was deliberately set, and some reports said that the fire could have been started by a patient.

Inspectors who visited the hospital in February and March had recommended its temporary closure because of safety violations.

Experts say fire deaths have skyrocketed in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, in part because of a disregard for safety standards.

Emergency response officials ordered all health facilities in Moscow inspected for fire safety compliance.