MOSCOW (AP) – Nine patients of a clinic for the mentally ill in Siberia died in a fire Sunday, a day after a blaze at a Moscow drug treatment center killed 45, officials said.

The accidents underlined widespread neglect for fire safety rules in Russia, which records about 18,000 fire deaths a year – several times the rate in the United States.

The fire in the psychiatric hospital in the town of Taiga in central Siberia, about 2,200 miles east of Moscow, began shortly after midnight.

About 200 other patients escaped unhurt and 15 were hospitalized, said Valery Korchagin, a spokesman for the regional branch of Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry.

Korchagin said that hospital officials tried to extinguish the blaze on their own and were slow to report it to officials. “They only reported it 1½ hours after the fire started,” he told The Associated Press by telephone.

Russian television stations showed the hospital’s two-story building engulfed by fire and a line of half-dressed patients walking through a blizzard. A rescue worker carried one patient, clad in pajamas, who was unable to walk.

Korchagin said that some patients suffered fractures as they jumped out of windows, and some received burns.

The cause of the fire was not immediately clear, he said. Local prosecutors were looking at arson as a possible cause, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

The fire in the Moscow clinic erupted early Saturday in a wooden cabinet in a kitchen at one end of a second-floor corridor. The main exit was blocked by a locked gate that staff members could not open in time, and the only other way out was cut off by smoke, Russia’s chief fire inspector Yuri Nenashev said.

Inspectors who visited the hospital in February and March had recommended its temporary closure because of safety violations.

Other officials said the hospital’s personnel had not spotted the fire in time, and launched a criminal inquiry into possible charges of neglect of duty.

Nenashev said he was “90 percent certain” the blaze resulted from arson, and some reports said the fire could have been started by a patient.

A fire also erupted Saturday at another mental clinic in the village of Troyanovo in the Tver region, about 120 miles northwest of Moscow, but rescuers quickly evacuated around 300 patients and no one was hurt, said Arsen Grigorian, head of the local Emergency Situations Ministry’s branch.

Experts say fire deaths have skyrocketed in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, in part because of a disregard for safety standards.

Kamilzhan Kalandarov, a member of the Public Chamber, a Kremlin-appointed rights body, called for stronger public oversight over drug and psychiatric clinics to make them more transparent and end abuses of patient’s rights.

“Thick iron bars on the windows, iron doors and cruel treatment are intended to subdue hospital patients,” Kalandarov was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency. “The death toll in a Moscow fire wouldn’t have been that high without barred windows.”


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