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Fire safety probe as 50 children die in a week

RUSSIA

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has ordered an immediate fire safety survey of all schools, particularly in rural areas, following the death of 28 children in the second school fire in three days.

The fire roared through a boarding school for deaf children in Makhachkala, southern Russia, as the pupils slept last Thursday morning. Seventeen other children were seriously injured.

Three days earlier, a two-storey wooden school in Sydybal, northern Siberia, had burned down, killing 22 pupils aged 11 to 18.

In Makhachkala, firefighters saved 138 people. Many had to be dropped from second-storey windows on to mattresses heaved outside to break their falls, teacher Marzhanat Aliyeva said.

The school has children aged six to 14 but most of those killed were boys aged seven or younger. The rescue operation was slowed as children had to be awakened individually because they could not hear alarms. Staff had initially tried to put out the flames themselves, delaying a call to the fire department by at least nine minutes.

Prosecutors blamed the high death toll in Siberia on building code violations including a blocked fire escape.

Fifty people a day - 18,000 a year - die in fires in Russia, where there are inadequate fireproofing and alarm systems in many buildings.

The fire death toll is 12.5 per 100,000 people, compared with one per 100,000 in the UK. Russia's Izvestia newspaper reported that last year 700 fires damaged school buildings across Russia.

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