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Officials Investigate Cause of Fatal Fire in Russia

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

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Officials are investigating the cause of Sunday’s massive fire in Kemerovo, Russia, which killed at least 64 people, many of them school-aged children who were at the mall celebrating the start of spring vacation.

What Happened

The fire broke out around 4 p.m. Sunday at the Winter Cherry Mall in Kemerovo, a city of around 500,000 people about 2,000 miles east of Moscow.

The blaze is believed to have started on the fourth floor of the mall, which includes a movie theater, skating rink and entertainment center for children. Reports say that no fire alarms sounded in the complex and emergency exits were blocked in many parts of the building. There are also reports that mall staff did not lead any type of evacuation protocol.

According to the New York Times, emergency situations minister Vladimir Puchkov said that at least six people are still missing, 13 are hospitalized and 40 were treated onsite.

Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that 288 firefighters responded to the scene with more than 60 trucks. It reportedly took 19 hours to extinguish the entire 16,000-square-foot complex.

The Cause

Vladimir Chernov, a deputy governor, went on record to say that the fire started in the entertainment room, which held a trampoline made of foam rubber.

“The preliminary version is that one of the children had a lighter,” Chernov said, according to the Interfax news agency. “The fire started from the trampoline pool, filled with foam rubber, which got lit up as gunpowder.”

Other reports, though, point to faulty electrical work in that area of the complex and many Russian publications are focusing more on why and how the fire became so deadly instead of how it started.

News outlet Al Jazeera also referenced Kommersant, which reported that a preliminary investigation that cited the fact that the blaze began on the top floor. The publication says that the fire quickly spread to the what it called “the building’s plastic cladding,” echoing London’s fatal Grenfell Tower fire, and eventually made its way to the roof, which is confirmed to have collapsed in multiple places.

The Reaction

Russian leader Vladimir Putin has not commented directly on the fire, however, the Investigative Committee of Russia (an equivalent to the United States’ FBI) said that it has detained four people involved in the ownership and maintenance of the site and has opened a criminal investigation into the cause of the fire.

Chernov noted that the fire safety situation at the mall is similar to other establishments across the region, which will now be subject to safety checks. The Washington Post recounts similar tragedies in Russia’s recent past including:

  • In 2003, a fire in student dorm at a Moscow university killed 44 and injured 156;
  • In a 2007 nursing home fire in Krasnodar, 63 people died;
  • A 2009 nightclub fire in Perm killed 153; and
  • In 2015, a fire at a mall in Kazan took the lives of 19 people and injured 61.


Tagged categories: Cladding; Fatalities; Fire; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; North America; Safety

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