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Massive fire tears through Russian warehouse in St. Petersburg

A huge fire tore through an online retailer’s warehouse in St. Petersburg in Russia on Saturday with video showing intense flames and thick black smoke rising high into the clear morning sky.

Nearly 300 firefighters and dozens of fire engines, as well as helicopters, battled to put out the blaze, the Ministry of Emergency Situations said, as workers inside desperately ran to safety.

The warehouse’s owner, Wildberries, said in a statement that all its staff had been evacuated and there were no injuries.

However, media outlet Baza reported on its Telegram channel that there were two people hospitalized as workers initially struggled to escape the quickly moving fire. The warehouse is located in the Pushkin district, south of St. Petersburg, the country’s second city.

Russian media, cited by Nexta, reported that the damage from the fire may amount to 11 billion rubles, or around $122 million.

Heavy smoke rises above a burning warehouse in Russia

Smoke rises above the burning warehouse of Wildberries online retailer in St. Petersburg, Russia, January 13, 2024. (REUTERS/Anton Vaganov)

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According to preliminary data reported by Baza, the first alarm went off at the warehouse around 4:20 a.m. 

Baza posted a video showing a frantic scene inside the warehouse where a large number of employees were trying to squeeze through narrow doors to escape the inferno.

The fire extinguishing system did not work when the fire began to flare up on shelves that contained household chemicals, the outlet reported, citing a worker. Many jumped from the second and third floors directly onto the concrete, because there was a strong crush at the emergency exit.

“According to workers, they did not know where to run when the fire occurred, so they rushed around the warehouse in horror. There were so many people that they were still continuing to descend from the third floor when the fire was already approaching the first,” the report said.

Firefighters outside a burning warehouse in Russia

Firefighters work to put out a fire at a warehouse in St. Petersburg, Russia, January 13, 2024. (REUTERS/Dmitry Vasilyev)

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As the fire engulfed most of the premises, fireworks stored in the warehouse began to explode inside the building, according to Baza.

It was not immediately clear what sparked the massive blaze, which spread to cover 70,000 square meters, or around 75,000 square feet. The fire was rated as a category five, the most serious. Officials said that firefighters had succeeded in halting it from spreading further. 

Heavy smoke rises above a burning warehouse in Russia

Dark plumes of smoke stretched for miles emanating from a burning warehouse in St. Petersburg, Russia, January 13, 2024.  (REUTERS/Anton Vaganov)

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The state-run news agency Tass, cited by Newsweek, reported that the cause of the fire was a malfunction of electrical wiring and that emergency services said that the fire alarm had been turned off due to repeated false alarms.

However, Newsweek reported that a source in the ministry told Russian news outlet RBC that arson was being investigated following a brawl that had taken place near the warehouse on Wednesday evening. An employee from Azerbaijan was hospitalized with stab wounds, and a Tajik citizen was also injured. Russian security forces then raided the warehouse.

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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