Apartment fire claims four lives

  • 2006-01-11
  • By TBT staff
RIGA - A fire that killed four family members, including two children, on Jan. 6 has shocked Latvians and once again put fire-related hazards and safety in the national limelight.
The fire broke out in a three-room apartment on the eighth floor of a residential building in Riga's Mezaparks region.

The five family members, reportedly having no escape, threw out their mattresses and jumped from the apartment windows. The adults died from the fall, while two of the children 's a boy and a girl 's were hospitalized in serious condition. The girl later died, but the boy, approximately 10 years of age, survived.

He has been put in intensive care.

According to eyewitnesses, firefighters arrived after the mother, holding her six-year-old child, and then the father jumped with another child. As firefighters began hoisting the crane to save the remaining child, the latter jumped, according to reports.

Officials said the victims could have saved themselves by crawling through a balcony hatch to the floor below, but the hatch had been sealed.

It took 20 minutes for firemen to penetrate the apartment's double-steel door. No information is yet available as to the cause of the fire.

The incident sparked a wave of criticism over Latvia's fire rescue service, primarily for attacking the fire from the wrong apartment. Also, witnesses said the rescuers couldn't find the nearest water source.

The chief of the rescue service dismissed the criticism, saying rescue workers did all they could to save the family.

"I can assert once more that our people did all they could to save these people, and it hurts to hear these ungrounded reproaches," Latvian National Fire and Rescue Service chief Ainars Pencis said.

"What really happened is known only to our staff, as there was nobody else except them in the staircase at that moment. There were only our rescue workers in masks there and nobody else can imagine how it was," he said.

Pencis added that the service had recorded conversations between fire fighters on that tragic night, which suggest that rescuers were doing their best to save the victims. "We are already short of staff, and now those who are working and doing their best job are being unfairly criticized," he said.

On Jan. 7, some 30 rescue workers, who had all taken some part in extinguishing the Mezaparks fire, will be provided with professional counseling.

According to Pencis, the firefighters themselves had asked for psychological assistance. "The request was voiced by rescuers themselves, and we will satisfy their need," he said.

Fires claimed 235 lives in Latvia last year, 21 percent more than in 2004, the National Fire and Rescue Service reported. The number of people who suffered injuries in fires reached 265 in 2005.

The fire service said it put out 8,853 fires and saved 218 people last year. Rescue workers also provided help in 5,521 accidents and answered 3,268 hoax calls.

Still, the number of fires declined by 7 percent, while material damages from them grew by 19 percent from the previous year.

As many as 24 firefighters sustained injuries while on duty in 2005.