Sat, Aug 08, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Nine die in fire at elderly care home in Belgian town

AFP , BRUSSELS

A fire erupted in a care home for the elderly in Belgium as pensioners watched TV or slept, killing nine people and injuring three others, officials and witnesses said.

It took two hours for firefighters to bring the blaze under control late on Thursday as flames raged out of the windows of the Kanunnik Triest home in the Flemish town of Melle, one of the country’s worst fires of the last 50 years.

Rescuers helped pensioners evacuate the building, but seven women and two men died of smoke inhalation, while the lives of the three injured people were “in danger,” police and prosecutors said.

Around 30 more had been hospitalized, but there were no details of their injuries. Another 50 pensioners were sent to other institutions or to their families.

The fire was probably triggered by the explosion of a television set, which set fire to a mattress, an expert from the prosecutor’s office said.

But a nurse quoted by the online edition of the newspaper De Standaard said the fire was caused by the explosion of a fan on the second floor of the modern building that housed around 90 elderly residents.

Smoke quickly spread through the building, the prosecutor’s office said.

“We were watching a television series, The Bounty Hunter, when all of a sudden the power went out and the fire alarm went off,” said 76-year-old pensioner Rosalie Persegaele.

“We saw the smoke in the hallways when we were evacuated,” she told De Standaard.

Manon Valcke, a 12-year-old girl who was bicycling near the building when it caught fire, said she rushed to the care home to help evacuate patients who were still in their beds.

“A nurse ran out into the street. She was shouting: ‘Help, help,’” Valcke, who was passing as smoke poured from the building, told De Standaard.

“I went straight into the home and got some people out of their beds, I put them in a wheelchair and helped them to leave the building,” the girl was quoted as saying by the paper.

By the time the emergency services arrived at the scene flames were leaping out of windows and it was too late to reach some of the victims. Two paramedics also had to be treated in hospital for smoke inhalation, De Standaard reported.

Deputy Mayor Dany Cottenie said the fire, which erupted at around 8pm, was under control by 10pm. One of the nine victims died while being taken to a hospital, Mayor Dirk De Maeseneer said.

“It is the worst accident in the West Flanders province in the last 10 years, said Andre Denys, the province’s governor.

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