- Associated Press - Monday, August 30, 2010

MOSCOW (AP) — A blaze killed nine people at a Russian nursing home on Monday, and investigators say it apparently started when an elderly resident doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire.

Daria Korovina, a spokeswoman for the regional Emergencies Ministry, said two other people were injured in the fire at the facility in Vishny Volochek, 120 miles north of Moscow. Some 480 people were evacuated, she said.

The prosecutor-general’s Investigative Committee, Russia’s top investigative body, said a preliminary inspection showed that an 86-year-old nursing home resident committed suicide by self-immolation, starting a blaze that killed eight people in neighboring rooms from smoke and gas inhalation.

The state news agency ITAR-Tass reported the man was believed to be upset about being unable to obtain an apartment of his own, which he had sought under a program providing housing for World War II veterans.

Russia records nearly 18,000 fire deaths a year, several times the per capita rate in the United States and other Western countries. The country suffers frequent fires at hospitals, schools and other state-run facilities, with many blamed on negligence and violations of fire safety rules. The fires have served as grim reminders of Russia’s crumbling infrastructure.

However, the head of the Emergencies Ministry’s supervision department, Yuri Deshevykh, was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying the nursing home’s fire-alarm system, installed this year, functioned properly. The Investigative Committee said the seven-story brick building was built in 1988.

Also Monday, a fire of uncertain cause broke out in a halfway-house complex for the mentally ill in the Ulyanovsk region, 300 miles southeast of Moscow, but there were no injuries, the Interfax news agency reported.

In January 2009, a nursing home fire in the Komi region of Russia’s northwest killed 23 residents. A November 2007 fire caused by a short circuit killed 32 patients in a nursing home in the Tula region south of Moscow.

In March 2007, 62 people died in a fire in another nursing home in southern Russia. A nearby fire station was shut down, and it took firefighters almost an hour to get to the site after a night watchman ignored two fire alarms before reporting the blaze, authorities said.

In the same year, a nursing home fire killed 10 people in Siberia. The fire alarm system functioned properly, but the nurse on duty was away at the time and failed to immediately alert patients and call firefighters.

In December 2006, locked gates and barred windows prevented victims from escaping a blaze that killed 46 women at a drug treatment center. Inspectors had recommended its temporary closure earlier that year because of safety violations.




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