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Fire Kills 30 at Chilean Home for Retarded Youths

September 30, 1997| From Associated Press

COLINA, Chile — A fire swept through a home for retarded children in this northern Santiago suburb early Monday, killing 30 residents, including several who didn't recognize the danger and walked back into the burning building after being rescued.

Three children and one firefighter were injured. Authorities took 134 survivors to a nearby school.

An electrical short circuit caused the fire, according to a preliminary report by the Fire Department. Residents' relatives complained that the facility was in disrepair and understaffed.

Some youngsters suffocated when they reentered the building.

"Apparently, some children thought it was some kind of a game, I don't know, but firemen said it happened several times," said Guillermo Vidal, vice president of Coanil, the private foundation that administered the home.

Isabel Patino, another Coanil official, said the children appeared to be attracted by the fire and "totally lacked the notion of danger." It was not clear why the adults on hand were unable to keep the children away from the fire.

Patino said all the victims were retarded people, ages 6 to 40, though most were children. While the home was established for retarded children, it also housed some adults.

Patino described the degree of retardation of the victims as ranging "from severe to extreme. . . . That was one reason for the high number of victims."

She said virtually all the residents took medication "under medical supervision" but added "that doesn't mean they were drugged."

The 10-year-old brick building is in the countryside outside Colina.

Luis Paredes, whose son survived the fire, complained that the home was badly in need of repair and lacked the most basic fire safety features.

It was not immediately clear if the home had sprinklers.

Other relatives said the home was understaffed during the night. They said only seven people were in charge when the fire broke out.

Vidal said since some patients suffered from both mental and physical disabilities, it would have required "one person per patient" for a complete evacuation.

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