At least 23 inmates of a nursing home for elders in north-western Russian Republic of Komi are feared dead after a major fire broke out in the building, apparently due to smoking. According to ITAR-TASS news agency the blaze could only be contained after more than four hour long efforts by the fire-fighters. The fire started late on Saturday night. The regional office of Russia's Emergencies Ministry said that there were 26 people in the nursing home, located in Podelsk village 150 kms from the republican capital Syktyvkar. President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered the Prosecutor General's office to probe the incident and has sent his regional envoy on the fact-finding mission, TV channels reported. Regional officials have said the fire was able to quickly spread because the fire alarm wasn't raised on time and fire-brigade was called in only by the villagers. Some reports said the nursing home staff earlier in the evening was celebrating a birthday party before the inmates retired to their rooms. A guard reportedly noticed the fire and tried to extinguish it. However, when the guard realised he could not battle the flames he managed to lead three residents to safety, TV channels reported.