Russia psychiatric hospital fire kills 37

Emergency Situations workers and fire fighters work at the site of a fire at a psychiatric hospital in Luka village in the Novgorod region, Russia, Sept. 13, 2013. AP/Russian Emergency Ministry

MOSCOW A fire swept through a Russian psychiatric hospital, killing 37 people, officials said Friday. Authorities had long warned that the mostly wooden building was unsafe.

The fire in the one-story hospital in the village of Luka in the northwestern Novgorod region erupted around 3 a.m. Friday and quickly engulfed the structure, which dates back to the 19th century, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

Emergency officials had demanded the facility be closed following a check this year that found it doesn't conform to fire safety standards. The hospital administration, however, won permission to use it until next year.

Officials said the blaze was likely sparked by a smoking patient and state Rossiya 24 television reported that a witness had confirmed that. It said a nurse tried to put out the fire with a blanket but it spread quickly. The man who triggered the fire was saved, Rossiya 24 said.

Local prosecutors said the patient might have deliberately set his bed on fire.

Emergency officials said 23 of about 60 people in the building when the blaze broke out were evacuated.

Emergency workers were also combing a nearby forest for patients who may have fled the blaze or wandered off.

The head of Russia's top state investigation agency flew to the area to personally oversee a probe.

Russia has a poor fire safety record with about 12,000 fire deaths reported in 2012. By comparison, the U.S., with a population roughly double Russia's, recorded around 3,000 fire deaths in 2011.

Another fire at a psychiatric hospital near Moscow killed 38 people in April.

Russia's rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin on Friday called for civil society to re-establish control over the country's mental hospitals in light of the deadly fire.

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