What caused the deadly fire in Russia’s Kemerovo?
The bodies of 64 people who died in the fire at Kemerovo’s Winter Cherry shopping centre have been recovered by rescuers early on 27 March. According to the Russian Ministry of Health, 25 bodies have already been identified, and over half of them children.
There are reportedly 13 people (out of 40 people who were injured during the fire) who are still in hospitals, most of them with carbon monoxide poisoning.
The President of Russia Vladimir Putin visited Kemerovo on 27 March. While there, President Putin laid flowers at the makeshift memorial outside the shopping centre, held an emergency meeting and visited the victims in hospital. However, Putin didn’t make any public statements – to the disappointment of many, especially those who were rallying outside the shopping centre early on 27 March.
The protesters put forward several demands, including the dismissal of key local administration figures. The Interfax news agency reported that about 300 people had gathered at the square in front of the shopping centre. However, there are videos that show there were a lot more people present.
President Putin didn’t show up at the rally, but held a meeting with a certain ‘initiative group’ instead.
Not a single government official has been dismissed over the tragic incident in Kemerovo in the two days since the fire.
According to the protesters, Aman Tuleev, who has been governing the region for 25 years, is one of the government officials who should be dismissed. The governor hasn’t visited the incident scene so far, saying that his motorcade might impede the rescue operation. However, Kemerovo residents are not convinced and continue to insist that he should step down.
The Kremlin has sided with Tuleev. According to Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson for President Putin, the claims made against the man were unustified.
A nationwide mourning has yet to be declared in Russia. Several regions have declared a period of mourning one after the other. Facebook users have been organizing public gatherings in memory of those who died. A number of similar campaigns are expected to take place in Moscow and St Petersburg today.
The Meduza online media outlet shared the story of Alexander and Olga Lillevyali yesterday, whose three daughters were in the shopping center when the fire broke out. Their oldest daughter was 11 years old, and the youngest was 5. They were watching an animation film in the cinema, while their father was waiting for them downstairs. When the fire broke out, Alexander tried to rescue his daughters, but he failed. All three girls died in the fire.
What caused the fire and why did it reach such a large scope?
There is no conclusive information as to what caused the fire. The only thing known at this moment is that there was a fire alarm malfunction. However, one version that is being considered is that it may have been switched off by a security guard. The security guard has been detained.
What is known so far:
• The Winter Cherry shopping & entertainment centre was built in the place of a former confectionery factory. Builders used inexpensive materials that are known to exude gas when burning;
• The ‘Emergency Exit’ signs were not switched on in the halls of the centre;
• The doors to a couple of the cinema halls were locked from the outside, and no one knows why. The Russian Cinema Owners’ Association suggested that the center personnel may have locked the doors because there were more spectators in the hall than the actual number of tickets sold. The Ministry of Culture immediately responded saying this version was ‘a cynical attempt to evade responsibility’.
• The center’s staff didn’t know what to do, as no one had ever instructed them on how they should act in case of an emergency.