Fire inspector charged with criminal negligence as 9 people die in fire in Russia

Prosecutors on Russia's Pacific coast charged a fire inspector with criminal negligence Wednesday, following an office-building blaze that killed nine people in Vladivostok, saying he failed to ensure that serious safety violations were corrected. Metal gates blocking stairwells in the nine-story building trapped workers on the upper floors during the fire Monday, and several of the victims jumped or plunged to their deaths trying to escape the smoke and flames. Alexander Lobanov, a senior district inspector in the city, failed to ensure that the gates and other violations he mentioned in an inspection report dated 2004 were corrected, said Irina Nomokonova, a spokesman for the Primorye region's chief prosecutor. The other violations included blocked emergency exits and problems with fire alarms, she said.

Alexander Anikin, said on state-run Rossiya television that investigators suspect Lobanov may have falsified a report on the inspection, drafting it after the fire and backdating it in a bid to avoid blame. He was charged with negligence leading to multiple deaths, and faces up to seven years in prison if convicted, Nomokonova said.

Russia's rate of fire deaths is roughly 10 times the rate in the United States, in part because of the lax enforcement of regulations, and President Vladimir Putin said last month that fire-safety oversight bodies must do a better job.

Televised footage from the fire, which also wounded 14 people, showed people sitting in windows with smoke and flames behind them. Witnesses said they saw women who worked in offices on upper floors of the nine-story building jump or plunge to their deaths, reports the AP.

D.M.