At least eight people died and nine were injured in a blaze that broke out in an illegal hostel early on Wednesday in the Latvian capital, Riga, police and local authorities said.
“Eight people have died and nine were injured during the lethal fire in the hostel,” Latvia’s deputy police chief Andrejs Grishins told reporters in the capital.
DNA tests will be used to identify the victims, he added.
“The bodies are burned so badly that we cannot tell yet which country they are from. Their documents have gone up in flames.
“Coroners and experts will try to establish their identities but lengthy DNA tests will be required,” Grishins said.
Some 24 others were evacuated from the fire, on the sixth-floor, after emergency services were called at 4:43am (01:43 GMT), a State Fire and Rescue Service statement said.
News agency BNS reported police had launched a criminal investigation.
“The hostel, located on the sixth floor on a state-owned building, was illegal,” Martins Stakis, mayor of Riga, tweeted after visiting the scene.
Residents living near the hostel quoted by local media said it had served people abusing drugs and alcohol.
Sandis Girgens, minister of interior affairs, confirmed that firefighters had been prevented from carrying out routine safety checks in the building since January.
“They had thick steel doors installed, and the hostel did not let our firefighting officers in,” Girgens told local media.
Authorities had decided to shut down the illegal hostel but the fire broke out before the decision could be enforced.
The mayor said the hostel was called Japanese Style Centrum. Pictures of its premises on booking.com website show beds tightly packed into small attic rooms.
“Rooms looked like a shoe box,” Sofia from Spain wrote in a review on the website after staying in the hostel in February.
Another review, by a Latvian called Viktorija who stayed there in March, said the room had no window and no ventilation, while others spoke of long-term residents living alongside visiting tourists.
“People sleeping in the stairs,” an anonymous reviewer from Australia wrote in December. The hostel did not immediately respond to questions sent via the website inquiry form.
Hotels and hostels in the picturesque Baltic state have remained free to operate throughout the COVID pandemic but numbers of foreign visitors have dropped sharply. The nation of 1.9 million has reported 2,106 deaths due to the virus, with daily cases rising recently but still well below January’s peak.