10 Die in Connecticut Nursing Home Fire

By NOREEN GILLESPIE, Associated Press Writer

HARTFORD, Conn. - A fire tore through part of a Hartford nursing home early Wednesday, killing at least 10 people and injuring 23. Officials said the blaze was considered suspicious and a resident was being questioned.

The fire broke out at the Greenwood Health Center about 2:30 a.m., forcing dazed elderly residents out on the street in single-digit temperatures as firefighters tried to save those left behind. Many residents are confined to their beds or use wheelchairs. Others are blind or mentally retarded.

"Upon my arrival, it became apparent that all hands would be needed," said Hartford Fire Chief Charles Teale. "It's not just the fire that kills, it's the smoke."

Teale said 23 people were taken to hospitals, 10 of them in critical condition. Firefighters evacuated 100 people; in all, around 150 people live in the home.

At a news conference with Teale and other officials at City Hall, Mayor Eddie Perez offered his city's prayers and condolences to the victims and their families.

"The people of Hartford are with you and will help you overcome the tragedy," Perez said.

Teale said the fire, which was largely confined to the building's southeast corner, "certainly was the worse fire we've had in Hartford in several decades."

Arson investigators were on the scene, and authorities said a home resident was being questioned. Teale declined to comment on the possible cause of the fire, but said: "We do have substantial leads regarding that matter. We do have someone in custody at this time."

Family members rushed to the fire to see if their loved ones were safe, and confused residents were seen seeking shelter.

State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez said one woman pleaded, "Please take me to my room. I'm cold."

One woman looking for her mother ran up the street sobbing, holding her temples and yelling in broken English.

"Where is the fire, where is the fire?" she cried.

Jolie Marrero was looking for her uncle, 54-year-old Juan Sanchez. "He couldn't even have gotten out if wanted to. He's blind," she said.

The injured were taken to hospitals around the state, and many had respiratory injuries and burns, officials said.

Chris Cooper, a spokesman for Gov. John G. Rowland, said the state fire marshal and Department of Public Health (news - web sites) had responded.

The first alarm was at 2:35 a.m. and followed by a second alarm five minutes later.