A huge fire ignited early today at a giant online shopping warehouse in St Petersburg used as a location for recruiting migrant workers for Vladimir Putin‘s war in Ukraine.
There was panic as 1,000-plus staff fled the inferno at the Wildberries facility in the Shushary district.
The massive blaze dominated the skyline and was seen by passengers in planes taking off from St Petersburg airport.
Eyewitnesses said it spread at ‘lightning speed’ in the 1,076,391 square feet facility.
‘In just 20 minutes…there was no warehouse,’ one witness said.
Videos show the terror as workers seek to exit the burning structure belonging to Wildberries, Russia‘s largest online market place.
There were terrifying scenes as 1,000-plus staff fled the inferno at the Wildberries facility early today. Reports say a main exit was closed and people had to file through a small door
A huge fire engulfed the Wildberries online shopping warehouse in St Petersburg used a location for recruiting migrant workers for Putin’s war in Ukraine
A thick cloud of smoke can be seen billowing from the factory. The huge blaze dominated the skyline and was seen by passengers in planes taking off from St Petersburg airport
Footage also shows the fire raging at the snow-covered site.
BAZA news outlet reported: ‘A large crowd could not squeeze through the narrow doors during the fire at the marketplace warehouse.
‘According to workers, they did not know where to run when the fire occurred, so they run around the warehouse in horror.
‘There were so many people that they were still continuing to descend from the third floor when the fire was already approaching the first floor.’
Wildberries said in a statement that all its staff had been evacuated. Nobody was reported to have been hurt.
Nearly 300 firefighters and dozens of fire engines, as well as helicopters, were battling to put out the fire, the Ministry of Emergency Situations said.
Firefighters brought the blaze under control but were still working on extinguishing it.
Overall damage from the fire, which began at 7.42am local time, including lost stock could amount to £98 million, it was reported.
According to employees, the fire extinguishing system did not work when the fire began to flare up on shelves holding household chemicals.
Reports say there were at least 1,200 people in the warehouse, and there were frantic scenes as a main exit was closed and people were forced to file through a small door.
Video taken from a moving vehicle on the road shows huge flames spread across the factory. The fire sent the factory workers into a frenzy as they desperately tried to escape the building
Scenes of panic as a crowd gathers in a corridor trying to leave the building. Reports say the main exit was closed and people had to file through a small door
The fire raging at the factory in front of cars parked on a snow-covered site in St Petersburg
A fierce blaze illuminates the sky after the factory erupts into flames
There have been several false fire alarms over recent days and staff initially suspected this to be the case today.
Arson or sabotage is suspected at the sprawling £27 million warehouse, where many staff are migrant workers from ex-Soviet Central Asian republics who military enlistment recruiters have been dragooning to the war, often under threat of being detained or sent back to their homelands for immigration violations.
Police and the Russian National Guard have been carrying out raids at the warehouse over the past two days, say reports.
As one raid took place, a water pipe burst in a suspected sabotage attack.
A ‘massive fight’ broke out at the warehouse between ethnic groups working there.
A 33-year-old citizen of Azerbaijan and a 35-year-old citizen of Tajikistan were taken to the hospital with stab wounds.
Fire ignited on racks holding household chemicals, located on the sixth level of the warehouse.
At the time, there was a shift change at the huge facility.
Apocalyptic scenes as the smoke from the blaze dominates the skyline above St Petersburg. Workers could be seen frantically trying to exit the building via the stairwell
The blaze in full force at the warehouse in St Petersburg
A thick cloud of smoke can be seen above the St Petersburg skyline
The inferno today was assigned the maximum fifth level of complexity.
It is the latest in a spate of fires and explosions during Putin’s war with Ukraine.
Some have been caused by missiles and drones, but others have been triggered by sabotage attacks.
A criminal investigation is underway into today’s giant fire in St Petersburg.
Online customers will be refunded for lost orders, the company said.
More than 400 rescuers and 89 pieces of special equipment were deployed on site.
Ukrainian Interior Ministry advisor Anton Gerashchenko posted: ‘The fire could have broken out as a result of deliberate arson as revenge for the raids by security forces the day before.
‘They were looking for illegal migrants and army evaders.’
However, Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry said that, according to preliminary data, the cause of the fire was faulty electrical wiring.