A deadly fire at a four-story mall in Kemerovo, Russia has not only shaken officials and residents in the Siberian city but has raised the ire of fire and life safety advocates around the globe due to serious lapses in fire safety protocol.
The death toll from Sunday’s horrific fire at the Winter Cherry Mall currently stands at 64, with ten victims at the hospital and another ten unaccounted for. An entire class of schoolchildren died as they celebrated the beginning of school break with classmates; making futile calls to loved ones in their final minutes. The incident is the 8th deadliest fire in a retail property since 1970.
Russia's Investigative Committee found “serious violations" at the mall including blocked fire exits and disconnected smoke alarms. Additionally, mall management has been criticized for not providing evacuation support or guidance. Movie-goers reportedly learned about the fire when a man burst into the theater yelling “fire”. Officials have detained employees of the fire alarm company; and are looking to speak with a security guard who turned off the public address system.
Witnesses described a very chaotic scenario with occupants scrambling to escape heavy smoke and flames in dimly lit spaces. According to CNN, the fire began in a movie theater on the shopping center’s top floor. Flammable thermal insulation in the building is believed to have contributed to rapid fire spread and intense heat. Rescue attempts were thwarted when the fourth floor collapsed.
The shopping center opened in 2013 in a former confectionery factory, and is a magnet for families and youths because of its retail stores, theater, bowling alley, skating rink, children's center, and petting zoo. In addition to the dozens of human casualties, an estimated 200 animals perished. More than 800 firefighters fought the blaze for 12 hours.