At least 36 people have been killed in a fire at a psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Moscow that housed as many as 41 people, including medical staff. A nurse and two patients were the only survivors.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has opened a criminal investigation into the fire, reporting that 36 people died, including two nurses. However, the Emergency Ministry has said that 38 died in the blaze.
Authorities point to faulty
electric wiring and a short circuit as the possible cause. But, the
investigators are looking into all possible causes of the fire,
“including careless use of fire", Investigative Committee
representative Irina Gumennaya told the media.
The fire started around 2:30 am Moscow Time (22:30 GMT) in Psychiatric Hospital 14 in Ramenskoe in a wing for special treatment patients. By the time fire rescue arrived, the entire one-story building was engulfed in flames. The fire burned an area of about 420 square meters.
One nurse managed to escape the blaze, bringing one patient out of the building to safety, while another patient managed to get out on his own.
The nurse told reporters that she was woken up by the fire alarm, and ran into the hallway where she saw a couch burning. She remembers seeing a flash.
Authorities have recovered 36 bodies at the scene. "Seven died from carbon monoxide poisoning, while others perished from burns", Gumennaya said. The Emergency Ministry reported that 38 people were found dead.
Journalists are still not allowed close to the fire site, as rescuers are wrapping up their work.
Experts have begun to identify the dead bodies at a local hospital, the Emergency Ministry reported.
Rescuers found eight of the dead bodies by the exit inside the psychiatric hospital, suggesting that they were trying to escape but were prevented by the effects of carbon monoxide, RIA Novosti reported, quoting a source close to the investigation.
Firefighters were delayed getting to the scene because of a closed river crossing – the trip took an hour instead of the expected 20 minutes, local media reported.
“We got to the scene before the firefighters did and the doors were closed, so we broke them down. When we got inside we saw one person on the floor already dead from the smoke”, one of the first witnesses on the scene told local media.
The hospital had bars on its windows, preventing people from escaping. Most of the bodies were found still in their beds.
“The fire started when they were asleep,” a law enforcement source told TASS, adding that people had little chance to escape. “Some of them tried to escape but were poisoned by the products of combustion," he said. The fire, meanwhile, has now been fully extinguished but the building "burned down almost completely.”
“Some windows had bars, some did not,” doctor-in-chief of the facility, Murat Shakhov told LifeNews tabloid. He said that only two patients in the facility could not walk, the rest suffered severe psychological illnesses.
“There were patients with acute psychosis, alcoholics and one drug addict. We also had patients with schizophrenia.”
Forty five police have cordoned off the area and are investigating the cause of the fire. Currently there are 120 people working at the site of the tragedy, including 30 pieces of machinery. According to the Ministry of Health 18 ambulances were on site.
A half-meter-long tunnel was discovered dug out under the burned hospital, suggesting that one of the patients may have been planning an escape, according to Interfax.
Investigators reported that the fire started in the hospital’s common room.
"One of the patients who survived the fire told investigators that when he woke up, the blaze had already begun and a couch in a common room was burning. He added that a new patient was recently admitted who suffered from drug addiction and constantly smoked, disregarding safety rules", Gumennaya added.
Another eyewitnesses described how firefighters could not extinguish the blaze due to a lack of water: “The first car arrived without water. Then another came – also empty. It was only the third car that had water,” local resident Yefim Volkov told the media.
Some sources claimed that the patients were unable to escape the building in time because they were sedated by powerful drugs, Korrespondent.net reported.
One of the firefighters at the scene told reporters that the"building itself was all wooden, which made it easier for the fire to spread”.
The Emergencies Ministry has published a list of 41 patients and medical staff who were inside the facility when the fire started (full list in Russian). The patients ranged in age from 20 to 76. The two medical staff listed as “to be verified” are believed to be dead.
Fire inspectors made two visits to the hospital in 2012. During the first visit, a number of fire safety violations were found that were later fixed in time for the second inspection in August that same year.
Relatives of those killed in the fire will be paid 500,000 rubles ($16,000) in compensation, RIA Novosti quoted Moscow regional governor Andrey Vorobyov as saying.
Moscow declared April 27 to be a day of mourning for those killed in the psychiatric hospital fire.
Tragic blazes in medical facilities are common in Russia, with at least 18 cases in the past seven years.
Among the most notable was in 2009 in the Russian Republic of Komi, where a blaze in an old people’s home in the region took the lives of 23 people. Only three were saved in the incident.
Two years earlier, a fire in the city of Tula, again in a home for the elderly, resulted in 32 victims. 247 patients, including medical staff were saved.
That same year, in 2007, another inferno in a care home claimed the lives 61 of victims. Only 35 people were saved.