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December 8, 2009
Death toll in Russian nightclub blaze reaches 118
By Jim Heintz
MOSCOW — The fire chief of a Russian city where a nightclub blaze killed 118 revelers was fired Tuesday and authorities said fire records for the club appear to have been falsified.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, acknowledged that Russia's lax fire safety enforcement remains a problem and lambasted officials and businessmen for their irresponsibility in connection with the weekend tragedy.
The blaze at the Lame Horse nightclub in the city of Perm broke out early Saturday when an indoor fireworks display ignited the ceiling, which was decorated with wooden branches. The blaze spread with shocking speed while the hundreds of customers tried to flee through a single exit. Many of the victims succumbed to gases or were crushed in the throng.
The fire chief of the city of 1 million, some 1200 kilometers (700 miles) east of Moscow, was fired Tuesday, Russian news agencies cited the Emergencies Ministry as saying.
About 130 people were hospitalized, scores of them with severe burns. Five of them died on Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 118, the emergencies ministry said.
In pre-dawn visit to Perm, Putin laid flowers near the site and held a meeting with local officials shot through with criticism and dismay.
Referring to safety rules, Putin said: "the businessmen in this case violated everything there was to violate."
"I don't understand how they could use in a closed room pyrotechnics that had direct instruction written on it in Russian: indoor use prohibited."
He also acknowledged Russia's notoriously lax enforcement of fire safety standards. Devastating blazes in recent years have hit drug-treatment facilities, nursing homes and nightclubs.
"It is necessary to admit: The measures that are being taken are insufficient and they are ineffective," Putin said.
A top Emergencies Ministry official, Yuri Deshyovikh, said Tuesday that the club's premises was approved in 2003 by a fire inspector who had left his post the previous year. "It's clear that it's criminal," he said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Four people, including the club's co-owner and manager, have been arrested on charges including violation of fire-safety standards and negligence causing the death of two or more people.
Deshyovikh also said the club's fire alarm worked properly, but apparently couldn't be heard by customers amid the festive noise.
In video shown on Russian television the club's master of ceremonies tells the crowd evenly "we are on fire" and urges them to evacuate. It was not clear how quickly he made the announcement after the fire began.