The Stroitrakt shopping mall in Balashikha, a suburb of Moscow, caught fire on Monday morning. More than 100,000 square feet of the mall was damaged in the blaze, and at least one person was injured, according to the Russian Emergencies Ministry.
A similar blaze erupted at another Moscow shopping center called Mega Khimki on Thursday, damaging a comparable amount of retail space and killing at least one person.
The Mega Khimki mall is a popular shopping destination close to Sheremetyevo Airport that boasted several top Western brands prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Most of the Western stores shut down after the invasion began, but a German-run household superstore called OBI was sold off to Russian managers and remained in operation.
Firefighters said Thursday’s fire began in the OBI superstore, possibly due to an electrical short, although an arson investigation has been launched. Moscow officials said on Thursday that safety protocols were disregarded during repair work on the mall.
Witnesses heard several explosions from inside the burning building, which firefighters attributed to aerosol cans and containers of paint detonating from the heat. More than 70 firefighters and 20 fire trucks were needed to control the Mega Khimki blaze, which ultimately brought down the OBI roof:
Another fire in Moscow. This time at Mega Khimki shopping center. Arson is suspected according to Russian media pic.twitter.com/DjNSZPKb7m
— Olga Lautman 🇺 (@OlgaNYC1211) December 9, 2022
‼️ Massive fire in Moscow suburbs, at a shopping mall "Mega Khimki". The fire spread to almost 15,000 sq meters (over 160,000 sq feet). It's still not clear what caused the incident. pic.twitter.com/0SE5nJ8e4N
— Ostap Yarysh (@OstapYarysh) December 9, 2022
The Emergencies Ministry also blamed a construction accident for causing the Stroitrakt mall fire on Monday.
Russia’s state-run Tass news agency said a stockpile of construction materials was set ablaze by a “short circuit” caused by “rainy weather.” More specifically, a quantity of polystyrene foam covered by an inadequate rain canopy caught fire.
The Stroirakt fire grew to become even larger than the Mega Khimki fire. Authorities needed 35 fire engines, 110 firefighters, and a helicopter to bring it under control:
В Подмосковье горит очередной торговый центр. На этот раз пожар в ТЦ «Стройпарк» под Балашихой. pic.twitter.com/gqUGrV90mx
— SOTA (@Sota_Vision) December 12, 2022
“Built in 2019, the shopping mall was not subject to fire safety inspections and is designated as a substantial risk facility, yet a temporary ban on inspections was imposed in 2020,” Tass reported.
Radio Free Europe (RFE) said on Monday that nearly the entire Stroitrakt mall was affected by the fire, and part of the roof has collapsed. RFE quoted emergency services reports that said the injured person was a mall security guard.
The timing of the two gigantic mall fires naturally invited suspicion of arson, suspects ranging from Ukrainian saboteurs to feuding Russian businessmen, but as of Monday morning, Russian officials were treating both fires as likely industrial accidents.
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