'Violations of safety' blamed for killer fire

January 14, 2000


Authorities at Moscow State University have been sharply criticised for neglecting building safety regulations after 11 people died in a fire at a hall of residence.

The fire, just before Christmas, started in a locked dormitory room in the 16-storey building. A 19-year-old, "Irish" Chumachenko, who had been asleep in the room, smashed a window in an attempt to escape. Fire investigators said the blaze - probably started by a discarded cigarette or faulty electrical wiring - then spread rapidly through the building.

Mr Chumachenko, a delegate to a stuntmen's conference, died. The other victims, killed by smoke after their lift failed, were mostly students from Ukraine and Korea.

Moscow city fire authorities blamed the rapidity with which the fire spread and the deaths on "violations of fire safety", including broken fire alarms and blocked fire escapes. The Moscow daily, Moskovsky Komsomolets, said the authorities had raised the matter twice previously with the university but it had not made any changes.

Svetlana Orlova, from the university's centre of mass media relations, said an investigation was still under way and no official comment could be made until it was completed. "At the moment there is no official explanation, although it is understood that the students died because they started using the elevator during the fire." This was contrary to fire instructions, she said.

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