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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fire Leaves Foreign Firms Homeless

A fire that swept through an 85-year-old office building in central Moscow early Tuesday morning has left a number of prominent foreign companies with nowhere to work, primarily due to water damage.

Police have already ruled out arson, saying that the fire appears to have been caused by an electrical appliance in the fifth floor offices of Tokyo Boeki Ltd, a trading house specializing in industrial and medical equipment.

The blaze broke out at around 6 a.m. in the offices at 4/17 Pokrovsky Bulvar, a building supervised by UPDK, the directorate of the government's diplomatic corps. The building is home to some of the longest-standing foreign business operating in Russia.

Nobody was hurt in the fire, but firefighters muttered among themselves that it had taken them a long time to start actually fighting the blaze because they had to break through the locked metal doors that the firms had fitted on their offices.

Igor Stepanov, spokesman for the Moscow fire department, said the fire damaged around 600 square meters of office space, moving up from the fifth floor to the sixth floor premises of the engineering and construction company John Brown Plc and then spreading all over the loft of the building.

Damage spread through far more of the building than was consumed by fire because the firefighters had to soak the whole building with water "The water is running on our walls and our false ceilings collapsed hours ago," said a member of the staff at Hewlett-Packard, who declined to be identified, as he loaded a computer into the trunk of his car. Hewlett-Packard is located on the sixth floor of the building.

Anastasia Ustenko, marketing and communications manager of Aga AB, which produces industrial and medical gases, said she had been told the company's first floor office would have its electricity back in two weeks. But she added that there was so much water she did not believe it.

Aga AB has moved all operations to their plant outside the city in Balashikha.

Stepanov said it would be more efficient and less damaging to use foam rather than water to check the spread of fires in such cases, but that the foam is too expensive for the Moscow fire department to buy.

"We had to stop the fire and we used all we had to do it, but it happened to be just water," Stepanov said.

Stepanov said fire engines arrived minutes after receiving an emergency call from a night guard at the building. However, Irina Soldatova, a secretary at Tokyo Boeki Ltd, said the guard told her the fire trucks arrived about 40 minutes after he called.

The nearest fire brigade is located about two minutes away from the offices.

The blaze was extinguished by 10:15 a.m., Stepanov said, but for several hours afterward firefighters were pouring water onto the building and responding to the occasional gush of smoke that billowed from the windows.

Vladimir Rubtsov, director of operations at UPDK, the state-run agency that controls the building, said the water damage has made the entire building unusable for an indefinite period.