Eight die in building blaze in Latvian capital

Firefighters and rescuers at the site of the blaze in Riga, Latvia

Eight people, some of them foreign nationals, have died in a fire at a building housing a hostel in the centre of Riga, the Latvian capital.

Firefighters and rescuers from the Latvian State Fire and Rescue Service said they were alerted to the incident on Merkela street in the heart of Riga at about 5am.

The building’s sixth floor and the roof were on fire, and rescuers found eight people dead. They evacuated a further 24 from the premises, news agency Baltic News Service said.

At least six people were taken to hospital suffering from burns and smoke inhalation.

Latvian state TV broadcast footage of flames pouring out of the top of the building, multiple fire engines and a ladder extending to the top, from where two firefighters were aiming a hose at the blaze.

Latvian authorities and Riga mayor Martins Stakis said the state-owned building was housing an illegal hostel, the operators of which had recently conducted unauthorised renovation work.

Some of the victims were foreigners, said the mayor.

The building is located in the commercial centre of Riga, close to the city’s main bus and railway stations.

Latvian authorities said the hostel is at the centre of the investigation for the cause of the blaze as the property was technically a private apartment and was being used as a hostel without the necessary fire safety and other permissions.

Mr Stakis said on Twitter that, based on the information he received from police, the hostel was operating illegally without documentation and “the burned building was dominated by foreigners, most likely foreign students, who used the hostel’s services”.

The website of the hostel, called Japanese Style Centrum Riga, lists its address as Merkela street, apartment 21. It says it has 22 rooms.

According to the Latvian public broadcaster LSM, the hostel had been on the radar of police and the State Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) since March due to concerns about fire safety in the hostel as well as the facility not complying with the existing Covid-19 restrictions.

Martins Baltmanis, SFRS deputy head, said his office had earlier received reports from residents of the building of a possible arbitrary construction in the apartment.

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