State Fire and Rescue Service (VUGD) deputy head Mārtiņš Baltmanis said at a press conference that on January 5 this year, VUGD had received a submission by residents of Merķeļa Street 8 about a possible arbitrary construction of a hostel in apartment 21. Rīga Construction Board examined this and confirmed that there had been arbitrary construction and that the premises had been used inappropriately, and made the decision to close the object, which did not happen in practice.
In the meantime, the VUGD requested three times that the owner provide documents to ensure fire safety requirements. VUGD never received a response. An inspector went to carry out a check three times but was not allowed inside. Baltmanis explained that VUGD had rights to enter property only if there was a fire.
Failure to comply with the requirements in March resulted in an administrative penalty of EUR 500 which was not paid.
The site has also been regularly visited by the police because of alcohol and drug use and disregard of Covid-19 rules. Riga Municipal Police Chief Juris Lūkass said that police had visited the address 19 times, received 16 calls from residents of the house and applied 17 penalties.
The Mayor of Riga said that this illegal hostel is not the only one in Riga. An interinstitutional working group will therefore be set up to identify such places and opportunities to deal with them. Interior Minister Sandis Ģirģens said that for the prevention of such cases there should be more power to the services and more responsibility of the owners. This was supported by VUGD chief Baltmanis.
“When carrying out a fire safety monitoring check, our mandate is set out in Section 13 of the Fire Safety and Fire Protection Act. There, we have not been given the right to enter [property] without a private person's permission and coordination. It is also important for us to have a legitimate representative of the property, because we have to enter every room. We need to obtain documentation of the construction plan, including whether the fire systems work. There is probably a question of law amendments here," Baltmanis said.
The national police have started criminal proceedings for the fire, but there are no detainees. The investigation is likely to apply the Criminal Law Section regarding violation of fire protection rules, said Andrejs Grišins, chief of the State Police department of Criminal Police.
Publicly available information shows that the hostel “Japanese Style Centrum” is on the top floor of this building and that the owner of the premises is a private person.
There are many foreigners among victims. It may be necessary to involve experts to identify the deceased.
It is known that at least three full-time foreign students of Riga Technical University also lived in the building, they have managed to evacuate and have not been harmed. The fact that there were many people in the apartment and each had their own room was also confirmed by the residents of the building who spoke to Latvian Radio.
In connection with the fire in Riga, Merķeļa Street 8, the single phone number +371 67829250 and the e-mail address: [email protected] have been created. Contacting the police via these means, people close to the victims can find out necessary information in relation to those who died in the fire.