Russian nursing home blaze kills 9; officials say 86-year-old man apparently set self on fire

MOSCOW (AP) — A despondent 86-year-old man apparently doused himself in gasoline and set off a fire Monday that killed nine people in a Russian nursing home, investigators said.

Daria Korovina, a spokeswoman for the regional Emergencies Ministry, said two others were injured in the fire at the facility in Vishny Volochek, 120 miles (200 kilometers) north of Moscow. Some 480 people had to be evacuated, she said.

The prosecutor-general's Investigative Committee, Russia's top investigative body, said a preliminary inspection showed that the nursing home resident committed suicide by self-immolation, starting a blaze that killed eight others in neighboring rooms from smoke and gas inhalation.

The state news agency ITAR-Tass reported the man was believed to be upset because he could not get an apartment of his own under a program for World War II veterans.

Russia records nearly 18,000 fire deaths a year, several times the per-capita rate in the United States and other Western countries. The country suffers frequent fires at hospitals, schools and other state-run facilities, with many blamed on negligence and violations of fire safety rules. The fires have served as grim reminders of Russia's crumbling infrastructure.

In this case, however, the head of the Emergencies Ministry's supervision department, Yuri Deshevykh, was quoted by ITAR-Tass as saying the nursing home's fire-alarm system, installed this year, had functioned properly. The Investigative Committee said the seven-story brick building was built in 1988.

Also Monday, a fire of uncertain cause broke out in a halfway-house complex for the mentally ill in the Ulyanovsk region, 300 miles (500 kilometers) southeast of Moscow, but there were no injuries, the Interfax news agency reported.

In January 2009, a nursing home fire in the Komi region of Russia's northwest killed 23 residents. A November 2007 fire caused by a short circuit killed 32 patients in a nursing home in the Tula region south of Moscow.

In March 2007, 62 people died in a fire in another nursing home in southern Russia. A nearby fire station had been shut down, and it took firefighters almost an hour to get to the site after a night watchman ignored two fire alarms before reporting the blaze, authorities said.

In the same year, a nursing home fire killed 10 people in Siberia. The fire alarm system functioned properly, but the nurse on duty was away at the time and failed to immediately alert patients and call firefighters.

In December 2006, locked gates and barred windows prevented victims from escaping a blaze that killed 46 women at a drug treatment center. Inspectors had recommended its temporary closure earlier that year because of safety violations.