Moscow, Russian Federation, Sep 23 – Eight Russian firefighters were killed as they battled a blaze at a warehouse in eastern Moscow, authorities said Friday, in the latest deadly fire to hit the capital.
Their bodies were discovered after contact was lost as they fought to extinguish a huge blaze that started Thursday evening at a plastics depot, the emergency services ministry said in a statement.
“The corpses of eight colleagues have been found in the main area where the search was located,” the statement said.
“Until the end there was hope that they would be alive. But due to the intense fire, the high temperatures and the thick smoke the firefighters were unable to get out.”
The emergency workers were among the first to arrive on the scene and helped evacuate 100 workers from the warehouse located towards the eastern edge of the Russian capital, officials said.
They were battling flames on the roof of the building when it collapsed, the emergency services said.
“The firefighters died doing their duty like heroes,” Moscow’s mayor Sergei Sobyanin wrote on Twitter.
“I send my condolences to their loved ones. The city will give all necessary aid to the families of those who died.”
Officials said the blaze — which tore across an area of some 4,000 square metres (430,000 square feet) — was eventually extinguished at 0744 local time (0444 GMT) on Friday.
Investigators announced that they had launched a criminal probe into possible “fire safety violations” and were conducting tests at the scene to determine the cause of the blaze.
Firetrucks still surrounded the site on Friday morning and firefighters had set up a makeshift memorial to their dead comrades, lighting candles and placing red carnations on a table.
An AFP correspondent said that the acrid smell of burning could be felt across areas of eastern Moscow close to the blaze.
The fire is the latest deadly inferno to claim lives in the Russian capital, where safety standards are often lax.
Last month 16 migrant workers mostly from Central Asian Kyrgyzstan died in a fire at a print warehouse where they worked in the city.
Millions of labourers from the former Soviet republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus come to Russia each year to earn much-needed cash given the lack of employment in their impoverished homelands.
The workers are often housed in the warehouses and factories where they work in cramped or unsafe conditions.
Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov said in a meeting with President Vladimir Putin that the warehouse had been checked by fire safety administrators who fined its owners for a lack of a fire sprinkler system and other infractions.
Russian agencies said Friday, quoting warehouse workers, that the burned building was empty when the fire started and the cause could be a short circuit.
A criminal investigation was launched to determine whether the blaze erupted due to arson or negligence and the owner of the warehouse eventually handed himself in to the authorities.