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23 dead as fire sweeps through Russian care home for mentally ill

Published 13/12/2015

Investigators have not yet determined the cause of the blaze, which broke at a facility in the Voronezh region
Investigators have not yet determined the cause of the blaze, which broke at a facility in the Voronezh region

A fire has swept through a Russian home for people with mental illnesses, killing 23 patients and injuring another 23, the emergency services said.

The remaining 24 patients were safely evacuated to other facilities, and the four medical personnel working at the home were unhurt, they said.

Investigators have not yet determined the cause of the fire, which broke out late on Saturday in Alferovka, a village in the Voronezh region about 350 miles south of Moscow. The fire in the one-storey brick building was extinguished three hours later.

The fire started in a section of the home dedicated to patients who were unable to walk, emergency services official Igor Kobzev said on Russian state television. He said 39 of the patients in the home could not walk and those who were saved were carried out of the building.

All of the patients at the Novokhopersky Neuropsychiatric Home were men and those who died were aged between 46 and 78, according to a list released by the emergency services.

The patients who were evacuated were placed in a nearby home for elderly and disabled people.

Emergencies minister Vladimir Puchkov flew to the scene and praised medical staff and rescuers for saving so many patients.

"They carried out 18 people who were sleeping and under the effects of strong medication," he said.

The fire raised additional concern in Russia because it followed two similar fires in 2013 that killed 75 people. After those fires, the government promised to improve fire safety at institutions for psychiatric patients.

Russia has a poor fire safety record with about 12,000 deaths reported in 2012.

"The mass death of socially vulnerable people occurs each time for the same reason: a lack of funding, dilapidated buildings and too few personnel, especially on night duty," said Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the federal investigative agency.

"However, judging by the preservation of such conditions and the repetition of these tragedies, the proper conclusions from this analysis of the causes either are not made or are made in favour of half measures or the dispersion of budget funds, which does not solve the problem," he said.

Mr Markin said Russian society should demand the construction of major rehabilitation centres with comprehensive safety systems.

His statement listed 11 major fatal fires since 2005 in homes for the aged, disabled and mentally ill across Russia.

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