16 dead in nursing home fire in Mexico

Forensics workers examine the rubble of a nursing home Tuesday after it caught fire in Mexicali, Mexico. (Cristian Torres ~ Associated Press)

MEXICO CITY -- A fire swept through a retirement home for poor people early Tuesday, killing 16 elderly residents at the facility outside the northern border city of Mexicali, the mayor's office said.

Five other residents were reported in serious condition after being taken to a hospital in nearby Mexicali, which sits across the border from Calexico, California.

Mayor Jaime Diaz Ochoa said the cause of the blaze at the Hermoso Atardecer retirement home was being investigated by the state prosecutors' office. The mayor's office said 12 fire extinguishers and eight smoke detectors had been found at the home, and the not-for-profit facility in a rural area about a half-hour drive from Mexicali had not been crowded.

Diaz Ochoa said 23 residents had been taken to a temporary city shelter and would be referred to a city elderly-care center. He said most were over 75 years old. The nursing home housed poor, abandoned or formerly homeless elderly people.

Diaz Ochoa said the facility was run by the not-for-profit Cultural Society for the Promotion of Social Welfare.

In its government registration page, the group lists one of its functions as "giving humanitarian assistance to low-income elderly people in need, including food, shelter, clothing and medical care."

Susana Marisol Tapia, a former volunteer at the home, said the administrators "do a great job, with a lot of dedication and sacrifice."

"What has happened is a tragedy that will surely hurt the beautiful work that they do, and that's a shame," Tapia wrote in an email upon hearing of the fire.