23 Die in Komi Nursing Home Fire

ReutersA fire burning in a nursing home in Podyelsk, 120 kilometers from Komi's capital, Syktyvkar, on Saturday night.��
A nursing home fire in the Komi region in northwestern Russia has killed at least 23 people, and officials said local authorities were slow to report the blaze.

President Dmitry Medvedev dispatched the Kremlin's envoy in northwest Russia to investigate the blaze in the village of Podyelsk, 120 kilometers from the regional capital, Syktyvkar, which was brought under control by firefighters early Sunday.

Konstantin Bobrov, a spokesman for the Komi government, said by telephone that the fire swept quickly through the single-story wooden building in the town.

He said three residents of the home were rescued and 23 died in the fire. Bobrov said the town had a fire station, but it could not cope with the size of the fire and more firefighters had to be called from a nearby town.

Grigory Gorbunov, a spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry's branch for northwestern Russia, said on Vesti-24 television that local authorities had been slow to report the fire. He said firefighters found the building engulfed in flames when they arrived.

Interfax quoted emergency officials in Komi as saying that up to 25 people might have died.

The cause of the latest fire was unknown. Bobrov told Vesti-24 that an unextinguished cigarette could have been to blame.

Russia has experienced frequent fires at hospitals, schools and other state-run facilities. Many have been blamed on official negligence and violations of fire safety rules.

In November 2007, a fire caused by a short circuit killed 32 patients in a nursing home in the Tula region, south of Moscow.

Emergency officials said the building was not equipped with a fire alarm, and unsafe wiring had not been replaced, despite recommendations that it be done. When the fire erupted, employees did not call for help until half an hour after the blaze broke out and did little to evacuate patients.

In March 2007, 62 people died in a fire in another nursing home in the Krasnodar region. A nearby fire station had been closed, and it took firefighters almost an hour to get to the site from a larger town after a night watchman ignored two fire alarms before reporting the blaze, authorities said.

Another nursing home fire the same year killed 10 people in Siberia. The fire-alarm system functioned properly, but a nurse on duty was away at the time and failed to immediately alert patients and call firefighters.

Komi Governor Vladimir Torlopov said an investigation would begin into the latest fire immediately. "I have ordered the most thorough investigation into the reasons for this tragedy. Now, the most important thing is to provide the injured with everything they need," Torlopov said in a statement on his administration's web site, www.rkomi.ru.

The Komi republic, whose northern extremities reach into the Arctic Circle, is sparsely populated and covered mostly by forests and swamps. It holds significant reserves of oil, coal, diamonds and bauxite.

(AP, Reuters)