37 people, including a nurse who left behind a husband and four children, were killed when a pre-dawn fire engulfed the Oksocho psychiatric hospital in Luka, Russia (about 137 miles southeast of St. Petersburg. The one story wood and concrete building, built in the 19th century was said to house approximately 60 male patients including some who had amputated legs or were bed-bound.
According to the facility’s chief doctor, Husein Magomedov, the conflagration was believed to have been deliberately started by a patient who suffered from pyromania. However, investigators, led by Alexander Bastrykin have opened a criminal probe into suspected negligence causing death. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has also directed the labor and social development minister Maxim Topilin to travel to the site.
Officials said concerns had already been raised about the state of the building, and Russian state television said the authorities had been planning to close down the hospital.
"This building was at high risk of fire. The administration had been told by the law enforcement authorities to remedy numerous violations in fire safety by August 1," said the head of oversight at the emergencies ministry, Yury Deshyovykh, "But this was not done." He also added that there were plans to close the hospital down after an eerily similar tragedy destroyed another outdated psychiatric hospital near Moscow last April in which 38 people perished as they slept in wards with barred windows that prevented their escape.
"The entire society, the people should protect citizens who have found themselves in a unique, difficult situation when they cannot protect themselves,” stated Vladimir Lukin, the Kremlin's human rights envoy, who has been pushing to improve conditions of psychiatric hospitals throughout Russia, for some time.
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