A fire at a Russian psychiatric hospital believed to have been started by a patient has killed 37 people, the top regional investigative agency said.

The bodies of 26 victims were recovered from the ruins of Oksochi hospital in the village of Luka in the Novgorod region, 220km from Saint Petersburg. 

 

The fire erupted at around 3am local time on Friday (around 23:00 GMT on Thursday) and reduced the building to smoldering wreckage, according to regional investigators.

"According to preliminary information, one of the patients set fire to himself and his bed," the investigators said.

The single-storey wood-and-concrete building housed around 60 male patients including 15 who were bedbound.

Lydia Vasilyeva, who lives near the hospital, told the AFP news agency, "the fire spread very quickly. Many of the patients were pushed out of the windows. Many didn't want to come out or didn't come out immediately. It was very scary.

"In the summer they brought a patient here who they say was suffering from pyromania," she added.

Authorities had demanded the facility be closed, but the hospital administration won permission to use it until next year.

"This building was at high risk of fire. The administration had been told by the law enforcement authorities to remedy numerous violations in fire safety by August 1," said the head of oversight at the emergencies ministry, Yury Deshyovykh.

"But this was not done."

The Kremlin's human rights envoy, Vladimir Lukin, sounded the alarm over the state of psychiatric hospitals in the country, calling for a joint effort to improve oversight.

A similar fire at a psychiatric hospital near Moscow killed 38 people in April.

Russia has a poor fire safety record, with about 12,000 deaths reported in 2012. 

There have been many fires with high death tolls at state institutions such as hospitals, schools, drug treatment centres and homes for the disabled in the past decade, raising questions about safety measures, conditions and escape routes.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies