Two dead in fire at Russian mall
A fire apparently sparked by a blast at a shopping centre in the Russian Urals city of Ufa killed two people and injured at least three, Russian news agencies reported, quoting local officials.
"We discovered the body of a man at the scene of the fire. Earlier we found the body of a woman," interior ministry official Maxim Rodionov told Interfax news agency, saying she had been born in 1993.
Artem Valeyev, spokesman for the presidency of the Russian republic of Bashkortostan quoted by ITAR-TASS, said between three and five people had been hurt.
Rodionov said an explosion and a fire in a cafe popular with smokers was the probable origin of the blaze, while Valeyev said "it is very unlikely that it was a terrorist act."
Emergency services ministry official Oleg Zugueyev said both floors of the mall were ablaze over 1,200 square metres (4,000 square feet).
More than 70 firemen and 40 vehicles were sent to the scene along with ambulances, he said.
A worker at a cafe next to the mall, Alina Islamova, told Echo of Moscow radio the evacuation of shoppers and staff had been difficult because the main entrance was on fire.
Two cars outside the entrance had caught fire and exploded, she said.
Ufa is the capital of Bashkortostan, an oil-rich republic with a Muslim majority population.
The Europa mall in the centre of the city contains restaurants and night clubs as well as shops.
The RIA-Novosti agency quoted witnesses as saying they had heard an explosion about 1230 GMT and the fire started soon afterwards.
© 2011 AFP