MOSCOW (Reuters) - Three people died and at least 20 were missing after fire gutted a remote, wooden care home in the northwestern Russian republic of Komi Saturday, a spokeswoman for the local branch of the Emergencies Ministry said.
President Dmitry Medvedev dispatched the Kremlin’s envoy in northwest Russia to investigate the fire, which was still blazing four hours after it started in the village of Podyelsk, 120 km (75 miles) from the regional capital, Syktyvkar.
“Three bodies have been pulled out of the building. Firefighters have entered the building and are searching for another 20 people,” Lyubov Terenteva, head of the press service for the Emergencies Ministry in Komi, told Reuters.
Fire broke out at the care home, which houses 26 residents, mostly elderly, in the early evening. Three women were rescued before firefighters arrived at the single-storey building and a night watchman escaped unharmed, Terenteva said.
“The fire has been contained but this does not mean that it has been extinguished,” she said by telephone from Syktyvkar, about 1,000 km (625 miles) northeast of Moscow.
She said the reason for the fire was unknown.
Russian news agency RIA-Novosti quoted a spokesman for the local administration as saying an unextinguished cigarette could have been to blame.
The Komi republic, whose northern extremities reach into the Arctic Circle, is sparsely populated and covered mostly by forests and swamps. It holds significant reserves of oil, coal diamonds and bauxite.
Vladimir Torlopov, the 59-year-old head of the Komi republic, said an investigation would begin immediately.
“I have ordered the most thorough investigation into the reasons for this tragedy. Now, the most important thing is to provide the injured with everything they need,” Torlopov said in a statement on his administration’s Web site, www.rkomi.ru.
Reporting by Robin Paxton; Editing by Jon Boyle