The patients of the small psychiatric hospital in a Russian village were asleep or under sedation as the clock neared 2 a.m. The windows were barred, and the nearest firefighters were miles away, with some impeded by rough roads and others not able to cross a nearby canal.
When a blaze broke out and spread through the wooden rafters, all of this made for a prescription for tragedy: 38 people died, and only three escaped.
The one-story brick-and-wood hospital building that caught fire long before dawn Friday housed patients with severe mental disorders, Health Ministry officials said. The fire started in a wooden annex, emergency authorities said, and then spread to the 1950s-era main brick building, which had wooden beams.
Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said half of the patients took sedatives at night. She insisted the patients weren’t tied to their beds and were not given any medication that would leave them unconscious and unable to escape.