Azerbaijan drugs center blaze kills dozens
By Stefan J. Bos
Azerbaijan's authorities say at least 25 people have died in a fire at a residential drug treatment center in Baku, the capital. Friday's disaster was the latest in a series of blazes that have shocked the ex-Soviet Caucasus nation.
Ten squads of firefighters and rescuers from the emergencies ministry struggled to extinguish flames that engulfed the clinic.
Police and prosecutors said the fire broke out early Friday in a ward for bed-ridden patients. After three hours, authorities claimed the blaze was out. By then, it was too late for many people.
Authorities confirmed that dozens of people died in the blaze.
But Azerbaijan’s Health Ministry said more than 30 patients had been rescued from the building. Some 200 patients and staff members were evacuated. Several people have been rushed to hospital with severe burns.
The office of the Azerbaijani president said he had arrived at the scene to oversee the rescue effort and ordered an investigation.
Officials believe that an electrical short circuit sparked the fire at the clinic, which occupies an old, one-story wooden building.
The tragedy raised questions about fire safety regulations in Azerbaijan. It has a history of large-scale casualties as a result of fires in residential buildings and elsewhere.
In May 2015, 15 people – including five children -- died in a fire in a multi-story building in Baku.
A decade earlier, in October 1995, at least 289 people were killed in a metro fire in Baku. That world's deadliest subway accident was caused by outdated Soviet equipment.