At least eight die in blaze at Czech disability home

The reason for the fire is still unclear (AFP Photo/Michal CIZEK)

Prague (AFP) - At least eight people died and thirty were injured after a fire at a home for people with learning disabilities in a western Czech town early Sunday, rescuers said.

"A total of 38 people were affected by the fire, of them eight unfortunately died," emergency services spokesman Prokop Volenik told AFP.

He said 30 people were taken to hospital -- one in critical condition, three with serious injuries and 26 with light or no injuries.

Czech media said the fire was reported at 0349 GMT and that it has been put out.

"The fire broke out in the boys' section of a home for the mentally handicapped," said Jitka Gavdunova, the mayor of Vejprty, a small town on the German border some 100 kilometres (60 miles) northwest of Prague.

Volenik said all of those affected were adults.

The broadsheet DNES daily quoted Gavdunova as saying the clients of the home had tried to set it on fire in the past, and that the home was heavily understaffed.

People from the town tried to help when the fire broke out but eight clients suffocated.

"The deputy mayor ran into the fire to help the clients and he paid for it. He's now in hospital under observation," said Gavdunova.

She told DNES the clients could walk around town freely, and that the home had fire sensors but only at the toilets used by the clients as smoking rooms.

"We should not be so benevolent with people whose mental age is six to twelve years," said the mayor.

Police said on Twitter they were investigating the fire as criminal negligence.

Originally, rescuers said the fire had occurred at a nearby home for the elderly.

"It's insane, we're swamped with phone calls from the relatives of the pensioners," Gavdunova told AFP.

Volenik said it was too early to talk about the causes of the blaze.

He added seven ambulance units including two German ones had been deployed.

Czech media said rescue helicopters were grounded by bad weather in the mountainous region.