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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

At Least 25 Perish in Latvian Village Fire

ReutersLatvian firefighters standing near the scorched home for the disabled Friday.
ALSUNGA, Latvia -- A fire tore through a home for the disabled in western Latvia on Friday, killing at least 25 people in what officials said was one of the highest death tolls from a blaze in the country's history.

The unauthorized use of an attic as accommodation most likely caused the, firefighters said Saturday.

Yury Kislaks, deputy chief of the State Fire and Rescue Service, said the old manor home in Alsunga, a town some 110 miles west of Riga, passed inspection last March, but that the attic had been excluded because it was not in use.

"Apparently last summer there was some construction work done, but it was never inspected by our people," he said. "This is a clear violation of the regulations."

Kislaks said nine people lived in the attic, where the fire is believed to have started early Friday. The residents had plugged in space heaters to keep warm in temperatures that had reached minus 20 degrees Celsius, overloading the house's electrical system.

But investigators were also not ruling out the possibility that the fire was caused by someone smoking in bed. The freezing temperatures made residents reluctant to smoke outdoors, as required.

"It has been a night of accident and tragedy in Latvia," President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said in a statement.

She also sent her condolences to relatives of the victims, and the prime minister said he would propose a day of mourning on Wednesday.

The LETA news agency quoted the head of the fire service, Ainars Pencis, as saying the fire was the biggest in modern Latvian history.

He said rescue work had been hindered because water had frozen in the firemen's water hoses.

Vike-Freiberga called on people to be very careful when trying to warm themselves on freezing winter nights as every year fires were caused by heaters.

Vigulis said the care centre was an old brick building built in 1890. It is one of 33 social care centers in Latvia and, with 90 residents it is one of the smaller ones.

Survivors of the blaze have been moved to a nearby school, Vigulis added.

Local police have also opened an investigation into the blaze, the LETA agency said.

(AP, Reuters)