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Monday, February 2, 2009
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Fire kills 23 at Russian retirement home

Russian authorities said yesterday they had found the remains of 23 people who died when a fire gutted a wooden retirement home in the country's remote northwestern republic of Komi.

Saturday's fire in the town of Podyelsk follows similar incidents across Russia, highlighting lax enforcement of fire safety regulations and inadequate Soviet-era infrastructure contributing to short life expectancy in the country.

"We have found 22 bodies and four fragments of biological origin," a spokeswoman for the investigative committee of the regional general prosecutor's office, Svetlana Korovchenko, said.

That led authorities to believe a total of 23 people had died in the accident, she added.

A spokesman for the local branch of the emergency situations ministry, Valentin Kudryashov, confirmed that 23 people had perished in the blaze, while three had been rescued.

The local authorities have previously said a total of 26 people had been at the care home when fire broke out early Saturday evening.

Authorities opened a criminal investigation into the accident, Korovchenko, told AFP by phone from the regional capital of Syktyvkar, 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Podyelsk.

She said, however, it was too early to say whether an arson or careless smoking had caused the deadly blaze.

"All versions are being examined," she said. Local officials have previously suggested that an unextinguished cigarette might have started the fire.

The Komi administration said late Saturday night that building's wiring had been "in full accordance with technical norms" and an alarm had gone off when the fire started.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's envoy in the northwestern district was expected in the region to investigate the accident, said the emergency ministry spokesman.

Vladimir Torlopov, head of the Komi republic, pledged "the most thorough investigation into the reasons of this tragedy."

"Now the most important thing is to provide the injured with everything they need," he said in a statement on his administration's site.

Fires are common in Russia and retirement homes and other state-run facilities are particularly prone to such accidents.

More than 60 patients and staff died in a fire in a retirement home in the southern region of Krasnodar in 2007, while over 30 people died in another blaze at an old people's home in near Tula just south of Moscow the same year.

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