VIENNA, Austria – A fire that engulfed a home for the elderly in western Austria killed 11 people and injured six others, a local government spokesman said.
When the blaze broke out early Friday evening in the town of Egg, there were 23 residents and two supervisors in the building, which also functioned as a nursing home, said Thomas Mair, a spokesman for Vorarlberg province government.
"There are 11 dead and six injured — three of them seriously," Mair said, without giving details.
About 250 firefighters put out the blaze, Mair said. He could not say how long it took to do so, but he added that firefighters were initially alerted around 6:45 p.m. local time.
Authorities are investigating the cause of the fire, which started in a room of the first floor of the multistory building and quickly spread to the rest of the facility, according to the Austria Press Agency.
From photos, the building appeared to have a ground floor and three upper floors. Authorities were not immediately available for confirmation.
APA said those who were killed had been especially in need of care and had died of smoke inhalation.
Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer arrived in Egg late Friday, APA reported.
"It is a catastrophe, completely terrible," the news agency quoted Gusenbauer as saying.
He also praised the "great work" of all those involved in the firefighting and rescue operation, and expressed hope that those who were injured would survive.
Vorarlberg Governor Herbert Sausgruber said the province had been hit by a "tragic event ... a grave disaster."
Egg's mayor, Norbert Fink, said the incident was a "massive hit for the whole town."
Austrian broadcaster ORF reported that the building was 140 years old and that thick smoke had hampered the rescue efforts.
Egg, a town of roughly 3,500, is located at the western edge of the country in a region that is popular for skiing and hiking.
Austria has had other fire disasters.
On Nov. 11, 2000, 155 skiers and snowboarders died when a fire blamed on an improperly installed space heater swept through the crowded cable car as it passed through a tunnel on its way to the summit of the Kitzsteinhorn glacier near the ski resort town of Kaprun. Only 12 people escaped the inferno, Austria's worst peacetime disaster.
Other Austrian senior citizen homes have been rocked by fire, but the blaze in Egg claimed the most lives, APA reported.
One such incident happened in March 1989 when two women burned to death in a home for the elderly in the village of St. Stefan ob Leoben in a fire that was sparked by a lit Easter candle left by a window. Five others were seriously injured in the blaze, according to APA.
Just last week, nine people — five of them children — perished in a blaze in an apartment building in Ludwigshafen in neighboring Germany.