Facebook Twitter

Some victims of fire were tied to beds

SHARE Some victims of fire were tied to beds

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Seventeen elderly people, some tied to their beds, others blind and scrambling to escape, burned to death Wednesday, engulfed in a fire that razed their retirement home in Costa Rica, authorities said.

The fire, thought to have been caused by a short circuit, broke out in the early hours Wednesday as most victims were sleeping and took only 15 minutes to destroy the home, a local firefighter told Reuters by telephone.

In the evening, thousands of mourners took part in a wake as the coffins of the victims were taken to the cathedral in Tilaran, about 125 miles northeast of the capital, San Jose.

"I grabbed my walking frame, and they helped me to get out, but behind me I could hear the bloodcurdling screams of other old people," Carmen Carvajal, 78, told journalists in an improvised shelter set up for the survivors.

Several survivors suffered serious burns, and at least two were in critical condition.

"They were old people who couldn't move easily on their own. When the fire struck, as it was night, there were about two people in charge of the home who tried to help the elderly escape, but they weren't able to get them all out," Hector Morera, archbishop of Tilaran, told local television.

"It was terrible. The neighbors say it sounded like firecrackers going off. By the time the first firemen arrived, everything had burned down, right down to the chapel," the archbishop said.

Aged between 80 and 95, some of the dead were blind and others were tied to their beds to prevent them from falling off while asleep, he added.

"From the way the bodies were when we found them, it's clear the old people tried to escape but they were trapped," one firefighter returning from the blaze said.

He said the building was new and everything pointed to a short circuit.

Tilaran is a mountainous area, buffeted by constant winds, which firefighters say could have intensified the force of the flames.