Russian art experts fear dozens of works of art including religious icons may have been damaged or destroyed in a fire at an art center in Moscow but officials said on Friday it could take days to properly assess the damage caused by the blaze.
The fire, which claimed the lives of two firefighters, broke out at the Grabar All-Russian Art, Scientific and Restoration Center on Thursday. Emergency workers say new outbreaks of fire are still possible.
Russian Culture Ministry spokeswoman Natalya Uvarova said more than 400 art treasures from various Russian museums were in the building when the fire broke out.
She said the damage has yet to be estimated. The Culture Ministry has established a special commission for this purpose, which will begin working as soon as firefighters leave the building.
Restoration specialists who were working in the center when the fire broke out said many works of art may have been damaged by the fire or the water used to put out the blaze.
Twenty fire teams and three helicopters were deployed to fight the fire, which covered some 2,000 square meters. A high-ranking law-enforcement source said the blaze made the building "absolutely unusable." The second floor was completely burnt out, he said, and the center requires total reconstruction to be used again.
The source also said that one firefighter had been admitted to hospital with major burns covering more than 80% of his body following the blaze. He quoted doctors as saying the man's condition was serious and there was only a small chance that he would recover.
There have been no official reports on the injured fireman.
The cause of the fire has yet to be confirmed, but media reports said welding works that had been underway in the building could have started the blaze.
The art center was established in 1918 by Igor Grabar, a scientist and fine-art expert, who headed it until 1930. The center has mainly focused on ancient Russian art, 18th century Russian art and scientific examinations of paintings and graphic works.
Grabar center specialists have been involved in the restoration of many art treasures, including Andrei Rublyov's The Old Testament Trinity icon and frescoes in the Moscow Kremlin and several ancient Russian churches.
MOSCOW, July 16 (RIA Novosti)