May 01, 2018

Pattern of Tragedies

russia has had its share of deadly fires in the past, including the Lame Horse Club fire that killed 156 people in Perm, the fire in a Krasnodar Krai retirement home that killed 63, and the police station fire in Samara that killed 57. There are a number of factors that may explain why fires cause so many fatalities in Russia. Alarm systems are often disabled or out of date, emergency exits are sometimes locked or blocked, walls are often covered with cheap and flammable plastic siding, and the inspectors who are supposed to identify and punish these violations frequently fail to do their jobs.

The March 25 fire in a shopping mall in Kemerovo, which killed 64 people, according to official figures, was in some ways no different from other tragic blazes caused by carelessness and corruption. But this case evoked much greater outrage, probably because 41 of the victims who died of smoke inhalation were children, many of whom had been watching a cartoon in a top-floor cinema. Their parents tried desperately to get into the theater to rescue them.

As in past incidents, several people deemed culpable were swiftly arrested and authorities ordered nationwide inspections of shopping malls, even proposing that henceforth all movie theaters would have to be located on the ground floor. The usual types of negligence were uncovered: the alarm system was down for over a week prior to the fire, the sprinklers and smoke removal systems failed to work, emergency exits were not open, and the person in charge of fire safety at the venue lacked the proper credentials. Typical of Russian авось, the mall owners simply never considered that an accident would happen and did not want to be bothered, while the inspectors completed their paperwork without truly checking the building.

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