Authorities arrest 7 state officials over Mexico childcare centre fire

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Authorities in the Mexican state of Sonora arrested 7 state officials, from the state finance department, yesterday; and charged them with negligent homicide for the deaths of 47 children in a fire at a daycare centre that occurred earlier this month.

In 2005, the Hermosillo, Mexico daycare was advised to carry out repairs in a safety inspection went unheeded. It is felt that negligence contributed to the massive fire Friday afternoon, June 5, taking the lives of 47 toddlers and infants and injuring the majority of the 142 children being cared for by six staff who were also hospitalized.

Location of Hermosillo

The ABC Daycare Centre installed a brightly coloured tarpaulin as a ceiling below the high roof. In 2005 the owners were advised to remove the tarp, and equip emergency exits and the main exit with larger and wider regulation sized doors. The daycare owners did not make the recommended changes, and continued to receive contracts to operate and also passed subsequent safety inspections including one a couple of weeks before the fire.

Officials have determined that the fire began in the neighboring warehouse which was used by the northern Sonora state Finance Department and contained license plates, tires, and paperwork. Nobody was working Friday and this warehouse was locked with the air conditioner left running. The air conditioner overheated, short circuited and melted its aluminum housing which began flames in the paperwork below. This neighboring warehouse had no fire alarms, fire extinguishers nor water sprinklers installed.

"The fire was caused by the overheating of an air conditioner due to continuous and prolonged use," said Eduardo Medina Mora, the Attorney-General.

The fire and smoke rose above the wall connecting the daycare and Finance Department warehouse, and was trapped in the daycare between the tarp and the warehouse ceiling. The daycare fire alarms were installed below the tarp, and did not alert the staff to the fire trapped above the tarp until the tarp itself caught fire which instantly dispersed smoke and flames onto sleeping infants below. One of the emergency fire exits was padlocked shut and could not be used the day of the fire by rescue teams.

Seven finance department officials have been arrested on negligence and charges of negligence are to be laid also against seven others. "They are employees and officials with the Finance Department who have a direct responsibility for the warehouse where the fire started," said Abel Murrieta, the state Attorney General.

The fire chief of Hermosillo has been removed from his position.

The wives of two high ranking state officials operated the privately run daycare under contract from the Social Security Institute. These two state officials have resigned. The owners will be charged with negligence by the state's Finance Department. The Social Security Institute will also begin a civil lawsuit against the owners. The head of the Social Security Institute has stepped down and others have been suspended.


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