Moscow drug clinic fire kills 45 women

A fire at a Moscow drug rehabilitation clinic on Saturday killed 45 female patients and staff whose attempts to flee were hampered by metal grilles blocking escape routes, emergency services said.

The fire, which broke out in the early hours of the morning, was likely caused by arson, a senior firefighter said .

“The number of victims has reached 45,” Deputy Emergencies Minister Alexander Chupriyan told reporters outside Drug Treatment Hospital Number 17 in south-west Moscow.

“Judging by the position of the bodies, people tried to get out but there was only one fire exit available.”

Crying relatives of the dead arrived to the hospital as ambulances hurried to and from the yard of a two-storey building with white grilles on windows.

Some windows had their glass smashed as patients tried to break out of the building but grilles were intact.

All the victims were women. Most were patients undergoing treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. Two were clinic staff.

The Emergencies Ministry said it applied to a court earlier this year to close the hospital because of fire safety violations including metal grilles on windows and staircases, but that the court turned down the request.

Ten people were injured, some of them seriously, emergency services said.
More than 100 people were evacuated.

The victims were in an all-female ward on the second floor of the five-storey brick building. They were killed by inhaling deadly fumes from a small fire which broke out in the canteen on the same floor, emergency services said.

“There is a 90% probability that it was arson,” said Yuri Nenashev, head of the Emergencies Ministry fire safety directorate.

Moscow’s Prosecutor’s office has started a criminal investigation into the case of breaking fire safety rules, Moscow Emergencies Ministry spokesperson Yevgeny Bobylov said.

He said that hospital’s administration was at fault as it did not act properly in a situation of a fire.

“They informed fire services about the fire 30 minutes too late. That is why dense smoke spread into 100 square metres stifling people,” he told Reuters. “They did not use keys to open grilles for evacuation. As a result, people were caught in a trap.”

Building unscathed

Ministry spokesperson Irina Andrianova told Reuters: “One staircase was blocked by the fire and the other was blocked by a metal grille that firefighters had to remove.”

A Reuters reporter who was allowed within 100m of the building saw grilles on the windows of lower floors. Some of the windows were smashed but there was otherwise little evidence of fire damage.

The alarm was raised at 1.42am on Saturday morning (11.42pm GMT on Friday). Fire crews arrived in under 10 minutes and took only 20 minutes to extinguish the fire, officials said.

“It was a very particular building with five storeys and only one exit and bars on the windows because it was a drug treatment hospital,” said Andrianova.

“We believe that people just did not raise the alarm in time because it was thick smoke and it only takes three breaths of that and people fall unconscious,” she said.

Russia has seen several fatal fires at secure hospitals where drug addicts or mentally ill people are treated. They are often in old, neglected buildings where patients are held in secure conditions.

In December last year seven people died when a fire broke out in the night at a hospital near Moscow treating people for nervous disorders.

In March 2005 seven people were killed in a fire at a drug treatment centre in Samara, in the Volga River region of central Russia, Itar-Tass news agency reported.

Nineteen people died in 1999 in a fire at a hospital for people with mental illnesses in the Leningrad region near Russia’s second city of St Petersburg, the agency said. - Reuters

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