At least 38 people died early on Friday in a fire at a psychiatric hospital in the town of Ramenye north of Moscow, the Health Ministry said, RIA Novosti reports.
“According to preliminary reports, 38 people died, including two medical personnel,” spokesman Oleg Salagay said.
“Three people survived – a medical nurse led two patients out of the burning building,” Salagay said, adding that a total of 41 people were believed to be in the one-story building at the time of the fire.
A police source told RIA Novosti that most of the patients died in their sleep inhaling the fumes as they were likely sedated by prescribed medicine.
Regional emergencies services said 12 bodies have been found so far in the building that almost completely burned down. The search is hampered by heavy clouds of smoke around the site.
Investigators working at the scene of the fire, which started at about 02.00 am and was put out almost three hours later, consider several possible causes, including a short-circuit, violation of fire safety regulations and even arson.
A criminal case has been opened while the head of the clinic and the surviving nurse are being questioned in connection with the incident, Russia’s Investigative Committee said.
The Moscow Region authorities have marked April 27 as the day of mourning for the victims.