Crumbling hospitals and a poor safety record make life difficult for many elderly Russians [GALLO/GETTY]

An early morning fire at a Russian nursing home that killed nine people may have been started by a resident setting himself on fire, emergency officials say.

The fire, in a small town in the Tver region about 170km northwest of Moscow, the capital, forced nearly 500 residents to be evacuated on Monday, officials said.

Russia's Interfax news agency reported that the fire took hold after a male patient set himself on fire in an apparent suicide attempt, subsequently killing himself and eight others.

Investigators found a canister of flammable liquid in the room where the fire started, leading to speculation that the resident set himself ablaze, Daria Korovina, a spokeswoman for the emergencies ministry, said.

Two people were injured in the fire, officials said.

Russia suffers frequent fires at schools, hospitals and other state-run facilities.

Many has been blamed on official negligence, violations of fire safety rules and crumbling infrastructure.

Frequent fires

Russia records nearly 18,000 fire deaths a year, several times the per capita rate of the US and other Western countries.

In January 2009, 23 nursing home residents died in a blaze at their retirement home in the Komi region of Russia's northwest.

A November 2007 fire caused by a short circuit killed 32 patients in a nursing home in the Tula region south of Moscow.

In March 2007, 62 people died in a fire in another nursing home in southern Russia.

A nearby fire station had been shut, and it took firefighters almost an hour to get to the site from a larger town after a night watchman ignored two fire alarms before reporting the blaze, authorities said.

Another nursing home fire the same year killed 10 people in Siberia.

The fire-alarm system functioned properly, but a nurse on duty was away at the time and failed to immediately alert patients and call firefighters.

Source: Agencies