With Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov and Emergencies Minister Sergey Shoigu at the scene, Vladimir Pronin, head of the City of Moscow's Internal Affairs Department, told journalists that the authorities had virtually ruled out arson as the cause of the blaze that consumed Moscow's historic Manezh overnight Sunday. The most likely explanation for the fire was a shortcircuit in the electrical system, Pronin said, a Rosbalt correspondent reported. Nonetheless, a criminal investigation was underway, authorities said.
Two firefighters died when the glass roof of the sprawling, 4,500-square-meter structure collapsed at about 10 p.m. Moscow time.
At least 30 firefighting units, many emergency ambulances and rescue workers rushed to the scene of the blaze, whose flames were visible from more than a mile away. Buildings nearby were evacuated, and roads closed to traffic.
The Manezh was built in 1817 in honor of Russia's victory over Napoleon, used as a garage after 1918 and later transformed and renamed the Central Exhibition Hall. It resumed its original name in the early 1990s and has continued as an important exhibition space.