Huge fire erupts at power station outside Moscow

Moscow (AFP) –


A blaze raged for hours at a gas-fired power station outside Moscow Thursday, killing a worker overseeing a substation and damaging a nearby warehouse, office building and hostel, emergency services said.

As the fire sent a plume of smoke and flames 50 metres (165 feet) into the sky, a female employee was unable to escape in time, Russia's emergencies ministry said.

"While searching through debris at the fire scene, one fatality was discovered," the ministry said.

Fourteen people received medical treatment, one of whom was hospitalised.

The fire broke out on the grounds of Power Station No. 27, some 20 kilometres (13 miles) from Moscow, around 11:00 am (0800 GMT) and took about five hours to put out.

The smoke and flames were visible from the capital and the emergencies ministry said the fire blazed over an area of 800 square metres (8,600 square feet) though the power station itself -- including the cooling towers -- was not affected.

The emergency services sent helicopters to drop water and fire-fighting trains to tackle the blaze, with some 160 firefighters at the scene.

One witness, Sofiya Fesenko, who lives in a nearby town, told Russian television that hot water flowed from cold taps after the fire.

"We saw smoke covering half the sky," she said.

The fire subsided after authorities switched off the gas supply.

Investigators were working to pinpoint the cause.

- Gas pipe 'leak' -

Russia's Investigative Committee, which probes serious incidents, said it was checking whether the energy company violated safety rules, a charge punishable by three years in prison.

The energy ministry said a leak from a high-pressure gas pipe sparked the fire outside the power station.

"Apparently there was a leak from a gas pipe," regional emergency ministry official Sergei Poletykin told Interfax.

A small explosion was heard before the fire broke out, Russian news agencies reported.

The power station was built at the end of the Soviet era and opened in 1996. Its four reactors supply part of Moscow and the region around the capital city with electricity and centralised hot water and heating.

The energy ministry said electricity supplies to the public would not be affected and the fire did not damage generation equipment at the station.

Russia is economically dependent on its vast oil and gas reserves.