Patient blamed for fire that killed 37 at psychiatric hospital
A pre-dawn fire swept through a Russian psychiatric hospital killing 37 people, officials said.
Authorities had long warned that the mostly wooden building, dating to the 19th Century, was unsafe.
It was the second such deadly blaze in Russia in less than five months.
The fire in the one-storey hospital in the village of Luka, about 450 kilometers northwest of Moscow, erupted around 3am and quickly engulfed the structure, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.
The ministry said rescuers so far have recovered 26 bodies. The Investigative Committee did not explain how it confirmed the other deaths.
The agency added that the blaze was inadvertently sparked by a patient, but the hospital's chief doctor insisted the fire was a deliberate arson.
State Rossiya 24 television reported that a witness said a smoking patient caused the fire. It said a nurse tried to put out the flames with a blanket. The 44-year-old nurse died in the fire while trying to rescue the patients, it reported.
The man who started the fire was saved, Rossiya 24 reported.
However, Husein Magomedov, the hospital's chief doctor, denied the fire was caused by a smoking patient and said that the patient deliberately started the fire and died in the blaze.
Firefighters arrived at the scene within minutes, but found the building already swept up in flames.
"Fire spread through the building in a moment," Boris Borzov, the top firefighting official, said.
Emergency officials said 23 of the 60 people in the building when the blaze broke out were evacuated. Emergency teams combed a nearby forest for patients who may have fled the blaze, but officials said they had little hope of finding any survivors.
Officials had demanded the facility be closed after it failed a fire safety check earlier this year.
But the hospital administration won permission to continue using it until next year.
A fire at a psychiatric hospital near Moscow killed 38 people in April.