Murat Zhumatayev. Personal archive photoRetired colonel Murat Zhumatayev, veteran of the Kazakhstan Ministry of Emergency Situations, has called the traders' version that the flea market was deliberately set on fire ludicrous, tengrinews reports.
Mr. Zhumatayev used to work in Almaty's Emergency Situations Department from 1994 till 2010. He recalls that the notorious market was on fire several times during his service in the Department and he still remembers of statements made by the investigators about the causes of those fires.
"Not a single deliberate arson was proved. It was always caused by people's complacency and negligence in 100% of fire cases. Sections of the market have been on fire several times over the last ten years, but the big ones took place only twice. The first one was in November 2005, I remember Akzhar section burning then, the fire also spilled to Ayagoz,Olzha and Zharkent sections. That time it was found out that a woman, a seller at the flea market, turned on a fryer and the oil flared and nearby curtains caught fire. The traders, certainly, couldn't handle that situation on their own. We were extinguishing the fire for two days back then. The total area of the fire made 10 thousand square meters, and the damages amounted to 600 million tenge ($3.9 million), 260 firefighters and 31 fire engines were involved in the firefighting operation," Zhumatayev recalls.
Despite the danger people were trying to reach their containers, meddling with the firefighters' attempts to approach the fire source. "I saw it with my own eyes when a woman, despite all the warnings, tried to get to her container. She screamed and cried that she impawned her apartment as collateral to obtain a loan, that she bought fur coats for sale, but had not sold them before the fire. She threw herself at people and at cars in hysteria. Later the woman was taken to a hospital in an ambulance," Zhumatayev remembers.
"Another big fire took place in April 2008. Storage containers were on fire. The cause of the fire was people's negligence again. Traders were heating their working places with very old and poorly maintained equipment. There were a lot of gossips back then that someone from Adem shopping mall (located at the flea market), that was being constructed at that time, was responsible for the fire. But those rumors were not proved true. And in my opinion, it is silly to believe that fire can be a good way to get rid of flea market," he says.
Zhumatayev recollects that routine fire safety checks at the Almaty flea market and firefighting exercises at the Almaty flea market always found isles being excessively narrowed by the market's administration wanting to squeeze in more traders. This prevented firefighters from effectively approaching the fire sources.
The Emergency Situations veteran fully supports the authorities' intent to shut down these flea markets. According to him, the fire safety regulations are not observed there. Zhumatayev also adds that since the 2000s several other markets in the city were on fire, including a Gross supermarket.
There was a pause in large fires at the flea market after the 2008. Then the shoe storages burned down to ashes on the night of May 20, 2013 at the flea market. According to the preliminary data, the fire destroyed about 500 square meters. The next fire happened in August. That time, containers with cloths, many of them synthetic, was on fire at Dastursection. Then there were several more small fires. And the big one happened in September 2013. The fire started atOlzha section, then spread to Ayan and affected several other sections. The total area of the fire was more than 5 thousand square meters. Negligence during welding works was acknowledged to be the cause of the fire.
The flea market flamed again two months later. This time Kulager, Eurasia and Aralsections of the market were damaged. The cause hasn't been declared yet. But the traders are sure that it was a deliberate arson. They said they saw bottles with incendiary compound.
The authorities have been planning to demolish the flea market for a long time. According to the Ministry of Emergency Situations, an all-round approach is needed in order to ensure the market's fair safety. It includes demolition of the market sections that are built in violation of safely regulations and construction of new shopping centers equipped with modern fire safety technologies, as well as forming of additional fire units and reconstruction of the access roads. The project of the future flea market was presented at the conference in Almaty.
26 market sections were inspected in October. During the inspection 320 violations of fire safety were found. 25 administrators and 21 legal entities were brought to administrative responsibility and 24 lawsuits to halt the markets operation were filed.
Authorities are calling the fire victims to remain calm and promising that all the people whose property was damaged by the fire would receive new sales spots and aid in prolongation of their loans.