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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Deadly Bus Blast Traps 12 Traders

APForensic experts inspecting the remains of the bus at Izmailovo market Tuesday.
A bus carrying shuttle traders from Krasnodar exploded in a ball of fire near the Izmailovsky market Tuesday, burning alive 12 passengers who apparently tried to flee the vehicle through a rear exit tied shut by thick copper wire. Two others, including the driver, managed to escape with nonlife-threatening injuries.

Police and firefighters blamed carelessness for the blast. They said the passengers and the driver, a former traffic police officer, had been drunk and one of them had failed to turn off the portable gas stove at the front of the Mercedes bus.

One of the survivors ignited the leaking gas when the stove was lit to boil water for tea at about 7:15 a.m.

"They were drinking alcohol throughout the night, and somebody forgot to turn off the tap on the gas canister used with a gas stove to cook food," Sergei Bobylyov, a spokesman for the Moscow Fire Service, said in a telephone interview. "The leaking gas filled the bus cabin."

The driver, Alexander Poltavsky, 52, and passenger, Irina Tsarastuyeva, 39, escaped through the front exit, firefighters said.

The charred remains of the 12 passengers were found at the rear of the bus, where they had evidently tried to push open the secured back exit, police spokeswoman Tatyana Petrova said.

"The other passengers, awakened by the explosion, couldn't make it through the fire to the front door," Petrova said.

Bobylyov said the exit had been bound shut by Poltavsky before the bus arrived from the southern city of Krasnodar at 1 a.m. Tuesday. Wiring shut back doors is a common practice on such trips and is aimed at keeping out thieves. The rear sections of buses are often converted into warehouses to store the goods that the shuttle traders buy in Moscow.

The ill-fated bus, like many other privately operated buses, was equipped with heaters and gas stoves to make travel more comfortable for passengers on extended journeys.

Moscow prosecutors immediately opened a criminal investigation into the incident.

Bobylyov said the driver, as a former traffic police officer, will have to explain his conduct to police investigators.

"The catastrophic number of victims resulted from our natural slackness to the rules in Russia," Bobylyov said.

Police said the victims were nine men and three women.

Ambulances took Tsarastuyeva and Poltavsky to City Hospital No. 36.

Dr. Yury Tyurnikov, head of the hospital's burns center, said Tsarastuyeva had burns covering 15 percent of her body and was suffering from smoke inhalation. She was placed in a special ward.

"But she is young enough and will cope with it," Tyurnikov said.

Poltavsky escaped with only minor burns on his hands and face and was put in a regular ward, he said.

Firefighters, who put out the blaze in about 30 minutes, said the explosion could have been a lot worse. After dousing the flames, firefighters found an unexploded gas canister in the rubble.

"This canister was larger than the one that exploded, and if it had gone off too the number of victims would have been higher," Bobylyov said, apparently referring to the possibility that the fire could have spread to other buses parked nearby.

Alexander Nazarov, the chief firefighter for eastern Moscow, said on television that a fire can destrory the interior of a bus in two to three minutes. Passengers can be quickly overcome by toxic gases emitted by burning vinyl and plastic from seats and other components inside a bus, he said.

Tuesday's tragedy was the worst fire on a bus since 1992, when a truck carrying gasoline caught on fire in northern Moscow. The blaze spread to several nearby trolleybuses, killing 11 people and injuring 11 more.

Bobylyov said 345 Muscovites died in fires in the first 11 months of 2001. Of those deaths, 184 were alcohol-related.