9 Dec, 2006
MOSCOW: At least 42 people were killed when a fire
broke out at a hospital here on early Saturday.
The fire is said to have started on the second floor
of the eight-storey Drug Treatment Hospital at 1.40
a.m. Moscow time (2240 GMT on Friday).
"A total of 214 people were rushed to safety
out of the burning building," Emergency Ministry
spokesperson Irina Andrianova was quoted as saying.
Over 20 fire engines were rushed to the site to douse
MOSCOW, Russia (AP) -- A suspicious fire combined
with a blocked exit turned the women's ward of a Moscow
drug treatment hospital into a deathtrap Saturday
as flames and smoke overcame patients. At least 45
women trapped behind a locked gate were killed in
the deadliest fire in the Russian capital in decades.
Russia's chief fire inspector, Yuri Nenashev, said
he was "90 percent certain" the fire was
set deliberately, and Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said it appeared
to be arson or extremely careless handling of flammable
The fire erupted in a wooden cabinet in a kitchen
at one end of a corridor on the hospital's second
floor -- a factor that led to suspicions of arson.
The main emergency exit was blocked by a locked gate
and the only other way out was cut off by choking
smoke, Nenashev said. The barred windows were shut
with locks that hospital personnel, who had the keys,
apparently did not have time to open.
All 45 women were dead by the time firefighters arrived,
said Alexander Chupriyan, the deputy emergency situations
"Judging by the placement of the bodies, they
really tried to get out," he said.
Televised footage showed the ravaged, peeling walls
of a corridor and black ash covering beds and belongings
-- a teacup, some buns for a snack -- in a room that
appeared otherwise undamaged. NTV showed a soot-covered
survivor sitting outside the building next to the
sprawled figures of two women who appeared dead or
Moscow fire department spokesman Yevgeny Bobylyov
said that investigators were still working at the
site of Hospital No. 17 in southern Moscow but that
it was already clear that the first call to the fire
department -- around 1:30 a.m. had come far too long
after the fire started.
"Secondly, the hospital personnel worked very
badly, they did not take steps to evacuate people
in the early stages of the fire," he said.
One hundred sixty people were evacuated from the
five-story building, and 10 people were hospitalized
with carbon monoxide poisoning, Bobylyov said. Firefighters
put out the fire within an hour of the first call
for help, he said.
Most victims died of asphyxiation, Bobylyov said;
some died of burns, Moscow city prosecutor Yuri Syomin.
Russian media reported that two hospital staff members
were among the dead.
A psychologist at the hospital, Olga Rudakova, told
NTV television many of the women there are HIV-infected
drug addicts, and NTV reported that most of the victims
were under 35 -- some committed by relatives.
The ITAR-Tass news agency said that the area of the
fire was comparatively small, some 1,075 square feet,
but that the heavy concentration of smoke killed people.
Ekho Moskvy radio said burning plastic wall coverings
worsened the thick, toxic smoke.
The fire might have started in a pile of discarded
materials, Syomin said.
The building, set deep in a courtyard, but no obvious
signs of fire or smoke damage on its facade. Hours
after the pre-dawn blaze was out, relatives wailed
or sobbed softly in televised footage.
Nenashev said fire inspectors had visited the hospital
twice, in February and March, and had recommended
the temporary closure of the facility after the second
visit because of fire safety violations.
Russia records about 18,000 fire deaths a year --
roughly 10 times the rate in the United States. Experts
say fire fatalities have skyrocketed since the collapse
of the Soviet Union, in part because of lower public
vigilance and a disregard for safety standards.
It was the deadliest fire in Moscow since a 1977
blaze at the massive Rossiya Hotel near the Kremlin
-- torn down this year -- in which the official death
toll of 42 has been questioned.
Emergency response officials ordered all health facilities
in the city inspected for fire safety compliance,
Russian agencies reported. In November 2003, a pre-dawn
fire swept though a dormitory for foreign students
who had been quarantined for medical checks, killing
43 and injuring nearly 200. Many were trapped behind
permanently locked exits, causing some to leap from
the five-story building