Ten children die in Estonia orphanage fire



TALLINN, Feb 20, 2011 (AFP) - Ten children were killed Sunday after a fire swept through an orphanage for the disabled youths in the town of Haapsalu in northwestern Estonia, an official in the Baltic state said.

"We are convinced that 10 is the final number of children who perished in the fire Sunday afternoon," local governor Neeme Suur told reporters.

There were a reported 37 children and nine adults in the one-storey, wooden building when the fire broke out.

No details of the victims’ ages or identities were revealed, but according to the orphanage’s website, the home was for youngsters aged under 18.

Local media reported that firefighters were called out at 2:30 pm (1230 GMT), and took two hours to bring the blaze under control.

"When the emergency services arrived at the scene, the wooden building was in flames," rescue chief Priit Laos told reporters.

"The building has partly been destroyed, and there is fire and soot damage throughout the building. The orphans have been taken to a hostel for the homeless," he said.

The building was located on the outskirts of Haapsalu, a community of some 12,000 people.

According to the home’s website, a total of 47 youngsters lived there, with 28 of them orphans or abandoned children, and the rest sent to the facility because their parents could not care for them.

All were severely disabled and most used wheelchairs, the website said.

"A criminal investigation over the fire has been launched," Erkki Koort, a senior interior ministry official, told reporters.

The move did not imply that authorities suspected foul play, however, because such a probe is automatic after a fire.

The Estonian government declared an official day of mourning for the victims on Monday, with public buildings across the nation of 1.3 million set to fly their flags at half-mast.

"Sunday turned suddenly into a black day when we learned that so many innocent children perished in an orphanage. A home that is supposed to be secure took the lives of those kids," speaker of parliament Ene Ergma said in a statement.

"Our hearts are broken for the kids, and our deep condolences go out to all the loved ones of those who perished," she added.

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