Deadly fire in Latvia caused by unauthorized use of attic

The unauthorized use of an attic as accommodation most likely caused a fire that killed 25 people in a care home for the disabled in western Latvia, firefighters said Saturday.

Yuri Kislaks, deputy chief of the State Fire and Rescue Service, said the old manor home in Alsunga, a town some 180 kilometers (110 miles) west of Riga, passed inspection last March, but that the attic had been excluded because it was not in use.

"Apparently last summer there was some construction work done, but it was never inspected by our people," he said. "This is a clear violation of the regulations."

Kislaks said nine people lived in the attic, where the fire is believed to have started early Friday morning. The residents had plugged in space heaters to keep warm in temperatures that had reached minus 25 Celsius (minus 13 Fahrenheit), leading to an overload of the house's electrical system.

But investigators were also not ruling out the possibility that the fire was caused by someone smoking in bed. Due to the freezing temperatures residents were reluctant to smoke outdoors, as required.

Latvia media have reported that the regional prosecutor's office is investigating the cause of the fire, the AP reports.

Eighty-eight people were in the three-story home, which was built in 1890, when the fire broke out after midnight on Friday. Fifty-four were evacuated immediately, nine were saved by firefighters, and 25 died, fire service officials said Saturday.

Ainars Pencis, chief of the State Fire and Rescue Service, told Latvian media that the fire was the worst in the country's modern history.

Rescue crews had found 20 bodies by early Saturday afternoon. Fire service officials said they did not believe any survivors would be found amid the debris or in the neighborhood, where police conducted a thorough search Friday.

Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said the government would declare a day of mourning next week.

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