Near Moscow, 38 people died in a mental hospital when a fire broke out around 2 a.m., provoking questions about the quality of care for mentally ill patients in Russia. Most died in their beds.
The fire that killed 38 people in the mental hospital began at 2 a.m. and blazed through the single-story hospital building, a compound of wood and brick huts with barred windows that housed people declared mentally ill by the Russian courts
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The fire occurred in the village of Ramensky 70 miles north of Moscow.
The 38 who died in the mental hospital were the majority of the patients. Only three people escaped the fire, sparking speculation that the patients were heavily sedated or even physically strapped down when the fire broke out.
Irina Gumennaya, aide to the head of the Moscow region's chief investigative department, dismissed questions as to whether the patients had been restrained as "rubbish." She promised blood tests, however, to check whether there were high levels of sedatives used.
Gumennaya blamed the 38 who died in the mental hospital for their own demise, saying, "The wards ... did not have doors, the patients could have escaped from the building by themselves. She added that she believed the most likely cause of the fire was patients smoking, or possibly a short circuit.
Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova insisted that none of the patients were strapped down and further claimed that none of the 38 who died in the mental hospital were subjected to "any such measures that would not have allowed them to react quickly." Skvortsova's claims were reported by the state run RIA news agency.
The morning after the fire that killed 38, all that was left of the mental hospital were a few blackened walls. The roof had caved in on top of the scorched and mangled bed frames. Bodies lay on the grass nearby, covered with blankets.
President Vladimir Putin called for an investigation of the incident, which is only the most recent in a long streak of disasters at state institutions that are often poorly funded. Russia's record on safety is astoundingly poor, with high death tolls on highways, railways, in the air, and at the workplaces.
Psychiatrists in Russia said the fire that killed 38 in the mental hospital was not the first and would not be the last. Yuri Savenko, president of Russia's independent psychiatric association, told Reuters the fire happened "because of dilapidated buildings in psychiatric hospitals -- a third of the buildings since 2000 have been declared unfit, according to health standards."
He added that junior and middle-ranking staff in psychiatric hospitals had dismal salaries which led to sub-par care for patients.
Others have chimed in with criticism of Putin and the state, blaming the government for neglecting its most vulnerable people.
Neighbors disputed official claims that the fire consumed the building so quickly that firefights had no chance to save any of the 38 who died in the mental hospital. Locals said the fire engines took more than an hour to reach the scene.
"Don't trust anyone who says they (firemen) arrived quickly ... My wife woke me up, we went out on the street with our daughter. Flames were rising high." said one neighbor.
The per capita death rate from fires is much higher in Russia than in Western nations, including the United States.
Russia is often listed among the most dangerous countries in the world on a variety of fronts: military conflicts and political tension, internet security breaches, attacks on journalists, and high rates of kidnapping and homicide.