Riga fire: At least eight dead in blaze at illegal hostel in Latvian capital
A fire at a hostel in Riga, Latvia, killed eight people and injured nine others on Wednesday, 28 April 2021. The fire broke out shortly after 04h30am in Japanese Style Centrum, an illegal hostel on the sixth floor of a block of flats in the Latvian capital Riga. The fire brigade were called at 4h43 am. Fire fighters and rescuers from the Latvian State Fire and Rescue Service said they were alerted to the scene on Merkeļa Street in the city centre. The building’s sixth floor and the roof were on fire, an area of about 250 square metres. Rescuers found eight people dead. They evacuated a further 24 people from the premises.
The State Fire and Rescue Service said the area was cleared and roads were closed while rescue operations were under way but that efforts were hindered because the apartment door was reinforced and required a key code to open.
It said the fire was brought under control shortly after 08h00 and was eventually extinguished at 12h10. There was no immediate danger, such as a risk of collapse due to unstable structures.
Mayor Martins Stakis said the apartment, located near the main railway station, was within a state building and did not have permission from the authorities to be used as a hostel. He told reporters that police were asking for help to identify the victims and that "specialists have been employed to help with the language barrier". He added that alternative accommodation was being provided to anyone affected.
In February 2021, officials who wanted to carry out a fire safety inspection were refused entry. The Mayor of Riga, Mārtiņš Staķis said the unauthorised hostel will be closed down. A criminal investigation into the fire was opened on the day it occurred. Three people were detained as police launched a criminal investigation.
The council's president, Mārtiņš Staķis, said that he would organise for information to be gathered on whether there are currently any apartments in the municipality that are also housing illegal hostels. "We see that the consequences of illegal business can be very tragic," Staķis said in the release. "Not only (in terms of) tax evasion but also loss of life. Swift action is needed to give the services more powers to take action against such illegal 'business' operators."
Police had also received information about repeated drug use at this address and state police had investigated these cases, the release added. They had also issued a total of 17 fines at the apartments for smoking in common areas, drinking alcohol in public, not wearing a mask, among other offences.
The police had also responded to 16 complaints about noise, drinking and fighting at the address.
The Riga Construction Board conducted inspections at 8 Merkeļa Street, as well as numbers 21 and 22, in January and ordered the owner to stop the use of the "non-conforming premises" and "remedy the consequences of the illegal construction within six months".
Sources: Euro News, Reuters, BBC