At least 15 die in Russian hostel fire


At least 15 people died and seven were injured when a three-storey wooden hostel erupted in flames in southern Russia, local emergency officials said today.

"The house has burned out fast, like a box of matches," an official with the emergencies committee of Astrakhan region said by telephone.

He said the fire, in a hostel built for local workers but inhabited by nearly 80 squatters, broke out late last night in the town of Molodyozhny.

The cause was not immediately clear.

Russian media said the hostel was closed after an official commission found its condition dangerous for residents and electricity was switched off, but squatters reconnected it using makeshift wiring.

Fires in old buildings are not unusual in Russia, especially during winter when heaters are being used.

Twenty-three people died on January 31st when fire destroyed a retirement home in the northern region of Komi.

President Dmitry Medvedev ordered checks on retirement homes, hostels and schools across the country.