Blaze Kills 37 At Russian Psychiatric Hospital

A fire at a Russian psychiatric hospital has many questioning the country's care of the mentally disabled.

The pre-dawn blaze scorched an old ward housing severely ill patients in the hospital in a village north of Moscow Friday. An estimated 37 people died in the fire, making it the second deadly blaze at a facility housing wards of the state in Russia this year.

According to reports from Reuters, officials had sought to have the building where Friday's fire occurred condemned as unfit for use.

Regional Governor Sergei Mitin disputed accusations that a hospital patient may have intentionally set the fire, saying that it could have been an unfortunate accident. "Medical personnel saw a patient who was shrouded in flames. ... It's possible that he was smoking in bed and the mattress caught fire," Mitin said.

Heavy sedation may have played a role in some patient deaths as they struggled to awaken and find exits during the fire. Also contributing to the the blaze's destructiveness was the fact that it took firefighters from the nearest station, which is 28 miles away, nearly 45 minutes to arrive on the scene thanks to foggy conditions. Volunteer firefighters arrived on the scene first to battle the blaze.

The Oksochi Psychoneurological Institution where the fire occurred houses the mentally disabled, as well as elderly citizens who can no longer care for themselves. A fire in April at a similar institution killed 38 people, prompting President Vladimir Putin to call for a closer look into safety standards at state institutions. Even after April's blaze, two more fires at mental hospitals occurred in May.