When the fire broke out, the department store quickly turned into a large burning crematorium
Two unidentified criminals threw bottles of flammable fluid in the Passage trade center in the town of Ukhta, in Russia's north. The fire, which broke out in the store, killed 24 people.
It was originally reported on Monday that the fire killed 18 shoppers, presumably women, and two men, who worked in the trade center. The number of victims of the fire changed on Tuesday morning – the death toll reached 24, Interfax reported with reference to the north-Western department of Russia's EMERCOM.
Investigators believe that the accident was based on a business conflict: entrepreneurs of Slavic nationalities try to oust Caucasian businessmen from the local commerce.
Taking into consideration the scale of the tragedy, the local authorities decided to pay the funeral ceremony for all victims of the accident. The day of the burial will be announced the mourning day in the republic.
The majority of the victims died from combustion products, Echo of Moscow radio station said. The fire in the trade center of the northern city of Ukhta became the largest accident of the type in Russia, which had been caused with criminal arson.
The fire in the Passage trade center, situated in the central, old part of the city, broke out yesterday at 2:00 p.m. The fire raced through the store quickly: it started on the ground floor in the center of the building and then went through a long narrow corridor to the only exit, having blocked all shoppers and vendors inside. The fire enveloped the first floor a couple of minutes later and reached the attic.
”The store used to be a 16-flat wooden barrack for settlers, - a fireman explained. – The building was repaired and transformed into a respectable and expensive trade center, but the security remained on the level of a barrack. That is why, when the fire broke out, the department store quickly turned into a large burning crematorium,” said he.
The people that were staying inside the burning building, would run out into narrow smoked corridors and fall down unconscious, having inhaled too much of poisonous fumes. The panic-gripped people blocked the only open exist from the building. Those staying on the first floor were trying to break windows, but they could not make their way out into the street because of the bars. One of the security guards of the store managed to save about ten people from the fire. When the guard was outside, he drove his offroad vehicle up to the building, fixed a hook on the bars, that were blocking the window near the fire exist and ripped it off. A crowd of desperate people rushed to the embrasure immediately, trying to take hold of the fire escape. The majority of the panicking people were falling down on the ground, being unable to descend.
The entire building was on fire when fire brigades arrived. The firemen managed to extinguish the fire two hours later, but the weight of water ruined the burnt floor and the roof of the building.
Eyewitnesses of the tragedy said that they had seen two teenagers running into the left wing of the ground floor. The teenagers threw a bottle of flammable fluid in and escaped. Specialists found traces of the flammable fluid afterwards, Newsru wrote.
It was not possible to arrest the criminals red-handed. Local police officers are certain, though, that someone most likely hired the teenagers for the arson attack. “The commercial situation in Ukhta reminds the one in other cities of Russia. Entrepreneurs of the Caucasian origin have the city's commerce under their control. Natives of Azerbaijan run food sales, Armenian nationals control the field of manufactured good, whereas citizens of Dagestan are in charge of transport. Our locals try to protest against the Caucasians, who control the business in the city,” a police officer said.