The fire in the town of Podyelsk in the Komi region followed similar recent deadly fires at other nursing homes across the country, underscoring the negligence, mismanagement, corruption and decaying infrastructure that has plagued Russia.
Konstantin Bobrov, a spokesman for the regional government in the Komi province, said in a telephone interview that the fire swept quickly through the wooden building in the town located about 750 miles northeast of Moscow.
He said three residents of the home were rescued and 23 died in the fire. Bobrov said the town had a fire station, but it could not cope with the size of the fire and more firefighters had to be called from a nearby town.
Grigory Gorbunov, a spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry's branch for northwestern Russia, said on Vesti 24 television local authorities had been slow to report the fire. He said firefighters found the building engulfed in flames when they arrived.
The Interfax news agency quoted emergency officials in Komi as saying that up to 25 people might have died.
Officials would not comment on the possible cause of the fire. Russia's Investigative Committee has launched an investigation.
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the government to conduct a thorough investigation and quickly report to him on the cause of the fire, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Russia has experienced frequent fires at hospitals, schools and other state-run facilities. Many have been blamed on official negligence and violations of fire safety rules. They have served as grim reminders of crumbling infrastructure and short life expectancy in Russia despite an eight-year oil boom that filled government coffers.
Russia records nearly 18,000 fire deaths a year, several times the per capita rate in the United States and other Western countries.
In November 2007, a fire caused by a short circuit killed 32 patients in a nursing home in the Tula region south of Moscow.
Emergency officials said the building was not equipped with a fire alarm, and unsafe wiring had not been replaced, despite recommendations that it be done. When the fire erupted, employees did not call for help until half an hour after the blaze broke out and did little to evacuate patients.
In March 2007, 62 people died in a fire in another nursing home in southern Russia. A nearby fire station had been shut, and it took firefighters almost an hour to get to the site from a larger town after, authorities said.
Another nursing home fire the same year killed 10 people in Siberia. The fire alarm system functioned properly, but a 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.
By Associated Press Writer Vladimir Isachenkov