Fire severely damages historic Moscow music and dance theater; no casualties reported

A blaze severely damaged a historic music and dance theater in central Moscow early Friday but it did not cause any casualties, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

The fire erupted in the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko musical theater at around 3:30 a.m. (2330 GMT Thursday) and was extinguished about three hours later, ministry spokesman Viktor Beltsov said.

The stage and spectators' hall was gutted, Beltsov said. Even after the fire was put out, firefighters continued to pour water on the wooden beams that crisscross the ceiling over the stage, he said.

The theater's outer walls remained standing but part of the roof collapsed, Russian news agencies reported. In footage broadcast on state television, a large, horizontal crack could be seen on a wall near the roof.

Investigators were weighing various possible causes, including technical malfunctions and arson, Andrei Stanovenko, a fire service official, told state-controlled Channel One television.

Fifty-one firetrucks and 199 firefighters battled the blaze, Beltsov said.

A firefighter told Channel One television that the fire had been localized in the old part of the theater, where it broke out, and was prevented from entering the newly constructed sections.

The theater had been closed for renovation after a fire in summer 2003.

The theater was formed in the 1941 merger of opera and dance troupes headed by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, both giants in the Russian performing arts world. It was based in an estate belonging to the Saltykov noble family, first built in the 18th century, which occupies an entire city block.

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