Fire kills residents of Costa Rica nursing home

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - A fire gutted a nursing home north of the capital early Wednesday, killing 17 residents - many blind or in wheelchairs - who were trapped in the building.

Firefighters were able to rescue 24 of the residents, two of whom were being treated for serious burns at a local hospital. The others were brought to a local church.

The fire, which officials believe was sparked by a short circuit in a television in one of the rooms, ignited the building's wooden roof and quickly spread to other rooms. The nursing home is located in the town of Tilaran, 120 miles northwest of the capital of San Jose.

A security guard on duty notified rescue workers, who heard screams coming from the building when they arrived.

Firefighters had a hard time putting out the blaze because there were no nearby water sources and strong winds fanned the flames, said Costa Rican fire chief Hector Monge.

In addition, all of the building's doors were locked and some of the patients were either blind, in wheelchairs or confined to their beds.

''In normal cases, evacuating people takes only three minutes,'' Monge said. ''But because of the circumstances, we couldn't.''

Police spokeswoman Edith Mora told Radio Reloj that ''the saddest part was that the ones we rescued tried to go back in to save their fellow residents.''

Mora said there were no other workers on the premises besides the lone guard. She said the remainder of the staff work only during the daytime.

Firefighters removed the bodies of the victims, identified as nine men and eight women.

Police said there were no indications of foul play but that they would investigate to be sure.

The fire nearly more than half of the nursing home, a cement one-story building.


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