Moscow: Twelve people died on late Monday when a night
time fire tore through a two-story Moscow market warehouse
that was being used by migrant workers from a former Soviet
republic as a temporary residence.
"Twelve people died. They were migrant workers. We are
trying to confirm which (ex-Soviet) republic they came from,"
a Moscow emergencies ministry spokesman told AFP.
Unconfirmed news reports said the migrants came from the
impoverished Central Asian nation of Tajikistan. Numerous
Moscow markets employ cheap labourers from the region without
giving them proper housing conditions or pay.
The blaze erupted early today at a market on the southern
outskirts of the city called Kachalovsky. Officials said it
took two hours to put out.
Emergency workers described squalid living conditions in
which the workers slept on hard cots that were stacked on top
of each other in rows of four without any direct access to the
The workers "lived in a metal annex that was equipped
with a space heater", an unnamed law enforcement official told
the Interfax news agency.
"They slept in frighteningly tight conditions, on hard
bunk cots that were then stacked on top of each other," he
Another official said the workers probably left the space
heater on all night to stay warm during the frigid Moscow
spring. Overnight temperatures plunged below freezing and much
of central Russia has been hit by snow.
"The fire could have started from the electric space
heater. It was probable left on all night because the
structure was turned into living quarters," an unnamed
investigator told ITAR-TASS.
Police said they have opened a criminal investigation but
have not yet pressed any charges against the market owners.