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10+ killed in Russian nursing home blaze

A cigarette is being blamed for a fatal nursing home blaze in Russia's Siberia, which claimed 10 lives and left four people with serious burns. A criminal inquiry has been launched, but Russia's Emergencies Ministry says the likely cause was someone smoki

The blaze started in the early hours of Thursday morning in a three-storey building in the small village of Omsk. 300 senior citizens lived in the home.

Fire engines and rescue teams reached the blaze within seven minutes. Staff managed to evacuate most of the patients, who are now being accommodated in a hospital, schools and local boarding home for children.

The fire spread over an area of 300 square metres. It's thought that the rescue operation was hampered by the mobility and age of the occupants – most were aged around 80.

Local authorities say the nursing home had recently been renovated and equipped with an automatic fire alarm.  

At least 14,000 people are killed in fires in Russia every year, which is seven times more than in Western Europe.

The Omsk blaze is the latest in a series of large fires in Russia.

December 2006 saw one of Moscow's worst incidents when 45 women were killed in a fire at a drug rehabilitation centre. The centre had been found to have unsatisfactory fire safety conditions and a night watch nurse was said to have alerted the emergency services too late.

Women living at the clinic found the emergency exits locked when they tried to escape the blaze. Most were dead by the time firefighters arrived.

“The state of the fire when we arrived makes us think that the fire engines were called? too late, long after the fire had started. It was at least 30n minutes before the fire brigades were called,” Viktor Klimkin, Chief City Fire Inspector, commented.

The incident prompted a review of all social and health care facilities around the country, and the investigation revealed over 20% of such homes fail to meet fire safety norms. By law, they should be forced to shut down.

“There are legal regulations that stipulate who is responsible. First – the state takes responsibility for patients, second – medics are also responsible for them.  But sometimes, and we see it in the examples of such tragedies, it is also the responsibility of fire inspectors. If they give safety regulations they must see, that these rules are taken seriously. If not – they enforce them through the courts,” Kamildzhan Kalandarov, the Director of Human Rights Institute, stated.

But the reviews proved futile.

In March, a fire in a home in Krasnodar took the lives of more than 60 people. A staggering number of violations were said to have been recorded there, including a lack of fire extinguishers and alarms.

More inspections were ordered. The nursing home in Omsk was found to have all its facilities up to date. But similar to the Moscow rehab fire, the Emergencies Ministry says a night watch nurse wasn't at the post when the alarm went off, prompting a delayed signal to firefighters.

Authorities say that simple measures, such as trading in heat alarms for smoke alarms and removing metal bars from windows could help decrease the number of fire-related deaths.

But while there are those who don't listen, there will be those who suffer from it.