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MOSCOW: Russian police on Saturday arrested a man suspected of starting a massive fire overnight at a bar in the historic town of Kostroma that killed at least 15 people.

Firefighters fought until early morning to put out the blaze at the city’s famous Poligon bar, about 300 kilometers northeast of Moscow.

Russian agencies reported that the fire could have started after a drunken man fired a “flare gun” at the dance floor.

“Police identified and detained the suspect (behind) illegal acts at an entertainment establishment in the city of Kostroma, which caused a fire and the death of people,” Russian police said.

“He has now been handed over to the investigating authorities,” he added, without giving further details.

The Russian investigative commission has opened a criminal case for “causing death by negligence”.

He posted footage from inside the burnt-out building, showing a barely recognizable bar with visible stickers of beer brands. The bar had a collapsed roof and burnt walls, with near total destruction inside.

State television showed nighttime footage of the bar – housed in a one-story logistics center – engulfed in flames.

Authorities said the fire started around 2 a.m. local time (2300 GMT Saturday) and was extinguished around 7.30 a.m.

Kostroma regional governor Sergei Sitnikov said 13 people were killed.

“Two other bodies were found. This means that the number of victims is now 15,” TASS news agency said citing law enforcement sources later.

About 250 people were evacuated from the building when it caught fire, authorities said earlier.

TASS, citing emergency service sources, said a drunken man with a “flare” was likely to have started the fire.

“He was spending time in the bar with a woman, ordered her flowers, with a flare gun in his hands,” the source told the agency.

“Then he went to the dance floor and shot.”

Emergency services said the fire had engulfed more than 3,500 square meters (37,700 square feet).

Some local media, citing witnesses, said there was panic when the fire broke out as people rushed to an exit, causing a traffic jam. A man forced a closed door, possibly saving lives, according to reports.

The RIA Novosti news agency said the bar was owned by a local lawmaker from the ruling United Russia party, Ikhtiyar Mirzoyev.

He told the agency he would “provide all necessary assistance to the families and loved ones of the dead”.

On its website, Poligon states that it acts as a nocturnal and nocturnal “leisure and entertainment venue”.

By day, it’s a typical Russian “stolovaya” – a casual restaurant serving traditional cuisine.

He says he is housed in a “distribution center” and is popular with the traffic police.

State television showed footage of dozens of medics battling hell.

The “Poligon” sign was visible amid the flames raging on its roof.

A firefighter told state television it took 50 people to put out the blaze and they used 20 fire engines.

He said the fire was particularly difficult to put out due to the risk of the building collapsing.

Kostroma, a city on the Volga with about 230,000 inhabitants, is one of the oldest cities in Russia and famous for its medieval architecture and monasteries.

Russia, which often has a lax approach to safety regulations, has seen a number of deadly fires at entertainment venues in recent years.

In 2018, a fire killed 60 people in a shopping center in the Siberian city of Kemerovo.

In 2009, another fire at a nightclub in the city of Perm, in the Urals, killed 156 people.

About Madeline Dennis

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