The fire in Russia’s leading academic library may have destroyed 15 percent of the collection which amounts to approximately two million rare texts and ancient documents.
The Emergencies Ministry said that the massive blaze which erupted on Friday evening (7 p.m. GMT), was extinguished at 11:24 p.m. on Saturday night.
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However, firefighters will continue to pour water over 2,000 square meters of the damaged building until Sunday morning.
Vladimir Fortov, the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said: “It’s a major loss for science. This is the largest collection of its kind in the world, probably equivalent to the [US] Library of Congress. “One can find documents there that are impossible to find elsewhere, all the social sciences use this library. What has happened here is reminiscent of Chernobyl,” he said, referring to the 1986 nuclear catastrophe.
RT report: Earlier, the head of RAS estimated that the fire might have affected 15 percent of the library collection, or roughly two million books and texts.
The director of INION called the incident a “tragedy,” as only a small part of the material had digital copies. Luckily, most of the books are stored in the basement and on the first floor of the building – and since the fire started on the third floor, firefighters managed to contain it before the blaze reached the storerooms.
Many of the texts were still damaged by the water, but Pivovarov says there is a good chance they can be saved.
“After the water damage, thanks to modern technology, it is possible to save the books. But after the fire…We cannot turn ashes back into paper,” said the academician. Pivovarov added that the international scientific community has already voiced its desire to help.
“The library will need more than just a restoration, it needs complete reconstruction,” he said, noting that he hopes the government will aid in the effort to save books and rebuild the library, which he estimates will take years.
The press secretary of the Federal Agency of Scientific Organizations, Maria Dokuchaeva, told Interfax that once the area is cleared, INION management will examine the full extent of the damage caused by the massive fire and the efforts to contain it.
The investigation into the cause of the fire is still underway, but arson or closed circuit fire are the main theories the probe is considering.
“A short circuit in the electrical system is currently being regarded as a primary lead,” a law enforcement source told Sputnik on Saturday.
The last inspection of the INION library in March found seven violations, according to the Moscow branch of the Emergencies Ministry. The library was fined 70,000 rubles (US$2,200) and given until January 30, 2015 to fix the violations. The fire ironically erupted exactly on that deadline.