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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fire at Retirement Home Kills 62

Itar-TassDespite three alarms, it took nearly half an hour before an employee at the Krasnodar region retirement home alerted the elderly residents to the fire.
KAMYSHEVATSKAYA, Krasnodar Region -- Sixty-two people died after a fire swept through a retirement home here early Tuesday, with lackadaisical staff and firefighters being blamed for the high death toll.

All but one of the dead were elderly residents. One nurse, Lydia Pachentseva, also perished in the blaze.

It took 27 minutes before anyone at the retirement home sounded the alarm to rouse residents, an estimated 50 of whom were bedridden. Meanwhile, fire trucks took more than 50 minutes to arrive on the scene.

In the end, only 35 of the 96 residents survived. Thirty were hospitalized.

In a sign of how seriously the fire was being treated in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin, who is not known for responding publicly to tragedies with dispatch, began a government meeting Tuesday with a moment of silence. Putin also ordered Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to conduct investigations into the fire and a mine blast Monday that killed more than 100. (Story, Page 3.)

The president declared Wednesday a day of mourning.

Dmitry Kozak, the presidential envoy for the Southern Federal District, which encompasses the village, said the government must help the victims and uncover the cause of the tragedy. He added that it must be determined whether all levels of government worked. "What was done to save people and put out the fire?" he said, Interfax reported. "These are the key ­questions?"

The Krasnodar region fire follows a December blaze at a drug-rehabilitation center in Moscow that killed 46 women. Fires in state-run facilities such as orphanages have been common in post-Soviet Russia; fire codes are often ­ignored, and safety officials are often lax when it comes to enforcing regulations.

Tuesday's fire "took hold in the first floor, and smoke then filled the second floor," the Prosecutor General's Office reported on its web site. "The upholstered boards on the walls of the building released a poisonous gas."

Most of the victims died of smoke ­inhalation or because they found themselves trapped in the building, an Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman said, declining to give her name.

While the fire alarm apparently went off twice, no one paid any attention to it until it rang for a third time, when the facility's caretaker took notice.

"I don't know what they were doing," the ministry spokeswoman said.

Galina Podzolotkina, an orderly at the home, said the alarm sounded at about 10:45 p.m. "The nurse and I went around the whole building and didn't find anything," Podzolotkina said.

Podzolotkina then checked in on the residents to make sure they were in bed. "One of the residents, who lives with his wife, was still playing the accordion. I told him, 'It's late. It's time for sleep.' He lay down in bed, and I turned off the light in the room."

Some time later -- she did not specify how long -- Podzolotkina heard a noise. "I opened the door to the corridor, and there was this cube of acrid smoke like an explosion from a nuclear bomb. ... The fire prevented us from exiting the room by the door, so we opened the window and jumped into the street. We ran to phone the fire service, the ambulances. When we got back the fire had taken over practically the whole first floor."

The fire was contained by about 3 a.m., and it had been put out by 5 a.m.

One resident in Kamyshevatskaya said that there had been no evacuation plan in the event of an emergency.

Yevgeny Tkachenko, who lived in the home with his wife, said he had been watching a television program when the fire broke out. "I could sense the smoke appearing, but I didn't give it any special meaning because the residents below my room, on the first floor, are constantly smoking. I closed the door and continued watching television."

Nor did the alarm create much of a stir. Tkachenko said he did not pay much attention, saying it sounded like a chirping bird. "How was I supposed to know that the alarm was working?" he said. "I didn't pay any attention to it. Beep! Beep! Ah, let it beep. But then, more and more smoke began entering the room."

Tkachenko says he survived only because people from neighboring buildings happened to have a ladder, which enabled him to climb down to safety.

On Tuesday, retirement home employees said that, in fact, they had conducted fire drills in the past and that all employees knew which residents they were in charge of should a fire break out.

But, they conceded, the fire drills had only been designed for a daytime emergency. At night, there are fewer staff available, with only a nurse, three orderlies and one caretaker to oversee nearly 100 residents.

Local prosecutors investigating the blaze consider negligence a likely cause.

Thirty-six fire safety violations were found in the retirement home in January 2005, said Sergei Kudin, head of the Emergency Situations Ministry's southern regional center. When the home was checked last December, there were still six outstanding violations, and repairs to the buildings were ongoing. Fire alarms had been installed in the building, but not in every room, Kudin said.

Staff Writer Kevin O'Flynn reported from Moscow.