A fire in an “illegal” hostel in Riga leaves eight dead and nine injured

  • The nationality of the victims is not yet clear
  • Three detained as part of a criminal investigation
  • Mayor says other apartments are likely used as hostels
  • Says they need to be identified and closed

RIGA, April 28 (Reuters) – Eight people died in a fire at a small “illegal” hostel in central Riga, the Latvian capital, early on Wednesday, and the city’s mayor pledged to close these accommodations.

Three people were arrested as police opened a criminal investigation, Latvian news agency BNS reported.

Mayor Martins Stakis said the hostel, housed in an apartment near Riga’s main train station, was mainly used by foreigners but it was not yet clear who the victims were.

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In addition to the eight dead, nine people were found injured and 24 evacuated from the fire on the sixth floor after help was called at 4:43 a.m. (0143 GMT), according to a statement from the fire and rescue services.

“I was awakened by an explosion and saw an orange light shining under the door,” said a visibly shaken witness identified only as Viktorija during the public broadcaster’s live broadcast outside the building. .

“I crawled on my knees. My airways are burnt out and the ambulance said I needed a doctor, but I think others need it more,” she said.

One person was found dead at the hostel on Tuesday, before the fire, after a suspected drug overdose, LETA news agency reported, citing authorities.

The mayor said the hostel was called Japanese Style Centrum. Photos of its premises on the booking.com site show beds crammed tightly into small attic rooms.

“The rooms were like a shoebox,” wrote Sofia from Spain in a review on the website after staying at the hostel in February.

Another review, by a Latvian called Viktorija who stayed there in March, said the room had no windows or ventilation, while others spoke of longtime residents living alongside visiting tourists.

“People are sleeping on the stairs,” wrote an anonymous reviewer from Australia in December. The hostel did not immediately respond to questions sent through the website’s inquiry form.

Officials were refused entry in February to carry out a fire safety inspection, Interior Minister Sandis Girgens said, while Stakis called the hostel “illegal”.

“It wasn’t a (real) hostel, it was an apartment that was used as a hostel,” the mayor said. “It is very likely that this is not the only apartment of this type in Riga, and we have to fix it.”

Hotels and hostels in the scenic Baltic state have remained free to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but the number of foreign visitors has fallen sharply. The nation of 1.9million has reported 2,106 deaths from the virus, with daily cases rising recently but still well below the peak in January.

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Reporting by Janis Laizans in Riga and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; edited by Philippa Fletcher

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Linda G. Ibarra