A spectacular fire gutted a historic factory in Russia’s second city Saint Petersburg on Monday, sending clouds of black smoke over the former imperial capital.
The emergencies ministry said 40 people had been evacuated, but that one firefighter had died and two more were hospitalised trying to put out the massive blaze visible across the city.
The ministry said that the fire had broken out over several floors of the red-brick Nevskaya Manufaktura building on the Oktyabrskaya Embankment of the Neva River.
The enormous factory was engulfed in flames which spread to nearby trees, AFP journalists at the scene said, adding that the building was surrounded by fire trucks and several ambulances.
The inferno spread to an area of about 10,000 square metres (107,640 square feet) and a large part of the roof had collapsed.
Nearly 350 firefighters were still fighting the flames at 4:30 p.m. (1330 GMT), three hours after the blaze sparked.
The cause of the fire was not immediately known.
Listed by the Saint Petersburg city government as a cultural heritage site, the building was home to one of Russia‘s largest textile companies in the second half of the 19th century, the Fontanka local news website reported.
It said the company, the Thornton Woollen Mill Company, was founded by British citizen James George Thornton and his sons, and that its products won the highest award at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900.
Serious safety violations
The factory was nationalised and run as a state entity during the Soviet period, then privatised in 1992.
In recent years parts of the building continued to operate manufacturing cloth, while others were rented out as office space and some areas had been abandoned.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes in Russia, said it had opened an investigation into a death caused by negligence.
The state-run TASS news agency reported that the emergencies ministry had conducted inspections into the building as recently as March 16, finding nine violations.
“The building had quite serious violations of fire safety requirements, including the absence or malfunction of fire protection systems — including automatic fire extinguishing — fire alarms and smoke exhausts,” TASS cited a source in the emergencies ministry as saying.
Fires are relatively common in Russia due to dilapidated infrastructure or non-compliance with safety standards.
In 2018, officials said that multiple safety rules were violated and an alarm system was not working when an inferno in a shopping centre in the Siberian city of Kemerovo killed 64 people including 41 children.
In December, a fire engulfed a retirement home in the Bashkortostan region south of the Ural Mountains, killing 11 people. Officials said that the building had violated safety requirements by housing too many people.