More than a dozen private houses burned down on Wednesday night and early on Thursday in what government officials described as Yerevan’s worst fire in years.
According to the Armenian Ministry of Emergency Situations, nobody was killed or injured in the blaze that hit a small neighborhood in the city center. Ministry officials suggested that it was caused by a gas explosion.
“This is the biggest fire registered in Yerevan in the last several years,” ministry spokesman Nikolay Grigorian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “It was more powerful than the fire that destroyed the Justice Ministry building [in February 2008.]”
Grigorian said 21 fire engines were rushed to the scene to put out the flames. Some of the mostly old houses were still smoldering early in the afternoon on Wednesday. They were being extinguished by two fire trucks.
The residents of the destroyed houses spent the night on the street. “I woke up at around 11 p.m. after my neighbors started shouting ‘Fire! Fire’ and there was an explosion,” one of them told RFE/RL.
“There were flames all over the place. I could only manage to pick my three-year-old child and get out of the house. My house is now destroyed, nothing is left of it,” said the young woman.
It is not yet clear whether she and her neighbors will be provided with new housing or paid financial compensation by the state. An official at the Yerevan Mayor’s Office told RFE/RL that the municipal government will make a decision on that after receiving the conclusions of the Ministry of Emergency Situations.
A team of ministry experts was working at the scene to ascertain the precise cause of the fire and assess the extent of the resulting damage. The Armenian police will decide whether to launch criminal proceedings also on the basis of their findings, a police spokesman said.
Grigorian complained that the fire-fighters’ access to the area was hampered by “irregular” structures built there since Soviet times.
The residents claimed that the municipal authorities have long tolerated the illegal construction while not allowing them to repair their homes on the grounds that the neighborhood is slated for redevelopment. “They wouldn’t fix the houses or let us do that,” said.
But Levon Hakobian, the head of a municipality structure coordinating redevelopment projects, denied that. He insisted that the authorities never planned to tear down the neighborhood’s 25 or so houses.