Moscow: At least 38 people died Friday in a fire at a psychiatric clinic in the town of Ramenye north of Moscow, the health ministry said.
"According to preliminary reports, 38 people died, including two medical personnel," spokesman Oleg Salagay told RIA Novosti.
"Three people survived - a medical nurse led two patients out of the burning building," Salagay said, adding that a total of 41 people were believed to be in the one-storey building at the time of the fire.
A police source told RIA Novosti that most of the patients died in their sleep inhaling the fumes as they were likely sedated by prescribed medicine.
Regional emergencies services said 12 bodies have been found so far in the building that almost completely burned down. The search is hampered by thick smoke around the site.
Investigators working at the scene of the fire, which started at about 2 a.m. and was put out almost three hours later, consider several possible causes, including a short-circuit, violation of fire safety regulations and even an arson.
A criminal case has been opened while the head of the clinic and the surviving nurse are being questioned in connection with the incident, Russia's Investigative Committee said.
A local emergencies services official told RIA Novosti that firefighters arrived at the scene only an hour after receiving a fire alarm notice.
"The nearest fire station is about 51 km from the site. The firefighters could have arrived earlier if the fire occurred in summer, as there is a ferry across the river," said Vadim Belovoshin, deputy emergencies chief for the Moscow region.
"Unfortunately, the ferry is currently closed," the official said.