ANDREW E KRAMER
A fire in a psychiatric hospital outside Moscow killed at least 38 people,most of them patients confined in the building because of their mental ailments,Russian news agencies reported early on Friday.
The building that went up in flames housed Psychiatric Hospital No. 14 in the town of Ramensky,near Moscow. The Interfax news agency reported that it was a special regime hospital,meaning that patients were not free to leave.
It is unclear whether this was a factor in the high death toll,as it has been in past fires in psychiatric institutions in Russia.
The regions acting governor,Andrei Vorobyov,said the nearest fire station was a 40-minute drive from the clinic,and that although a fire alarm went off and a nurse tried to wake and evacuate patients,the fire spread very rapidly within the building.
Some windows were fitted with security bars,but some were not, Vorobyov told Interfax. It is up to investigators to find out whether the presence of these bars were a factor or not.
By mid morning Friday,investigators had identified 20 victims.
Though patients are typically confined behind barred windows,Russias overall lax culture of fire safety means few plans are made for emergency exits.
The fire began in an outbuilding to the main wood-and-brick hospital about 2 am,Interfax reported. When firefighters arrived the building was in flames.
The press service of the Interior Ministry of Moscow said 38 people in the building had died. Two people jumped from a window,the agency reported.
Fires claim a sad and steady death toll in Russia,far higher than in developed countries.
Fire exits are locked,blocked by boxes in storage or simply nonexistent. Barred windows in nursing homes and hospitals have been the cause of horrendous death tolls,as have fires in student dormitories.
A fatalistic Russian shrug or a bribe to fire inspectors are all too common responses to dangers.
Earlier this spring,the building of one of Russias most prestigious theater schools burned,though with no casualties; the attic had been packed with drapes,costumes and the tinder of wooden set materials,all of which burned vigorously and quickly.
Investigators are exploring several potential causes,including arson,carelessness perhaps with a cigarette and poorly maintained electronic equipment. NYT