Even though officials reported the incident as the result of a short circuit, some stall owners believe the bazaar was purposefully burnt down.
The “car bazaar” on Bebek Street caught fire again on the evening of June 30th, turning one third of the bazaar into ashes. A man familiar with the bazaar said 50-60 stalls were destroyed. There is no official report on total losses, and no information has been provided by the bazaar’s management. When we were at the scene on July 1st, all entryways were blocked by the police. The Ministry of Emergency Situations was conducting an investigation.
After extinguishing the fire, the bazaar was off-limits. As of July 1st, it remained closed, yet one person from each of the stalls was allowed in. They kept themselves busy, trying to focus on other things in order to stave off the stress and shock. Some were not allowed to enter the bazaar at all. They argued with police, trying to gain entry to assess their stalls. The police said they understood their worries but could not allow them or anyone else in without express authority.
“Some have incurred up to $700,000 in damages…”
An owner named Zaur was throwing melted pieces into a pile, his hands covered in diesel oil: “There is nothing left. Some of the stalls had $700,000 worth of damage. Minimum damages were $10.000. Other people have $50,000, $100,000, $150,000 in damages. Nobody was insured. Even the wheel pistons are melted. Fixtures, too. Now, we can’t even sell it for junk,” the stall owner said.
Inside, some owners were sifting through the remains for anything salvageable, but some owners were only able to watch from outside the gates. They had pain etched across their faces; they didn’t want to go in, knowing it would only intensify the sense of loss, they said: “Why should I go in there? Everything burnt to the ground. Look, stall number 3 is mine. I can see from here there’s nothing left.”
Some owners didn’t want to talk about it. Writing, taking pictures and talking about it wouldn’t change anything, they said.
“This is Azerbaijan. Nobody cares about other people’s complaints or problems. If you have no one to share your problems with, no one cares. We have suffered for years. We pay money every month. Everybody has a tax number. The bazaar management doesn’t allow us to have insurance here. They have never provided us with security, yet we pay for it. In the last fire they didn’t pay us for damages. We’re paying for security, but what have they done for us? What are we paying this money for? If there’s no security when we need them, why are they making us pay for it? If we’re one day late paying them this money, they come after us with an army. When we leave at night, they always turn the electricity off. Now, they’re saying it happened because of a short circuit, but if they cut off the electricity every night, then how did that happen? It’s clear the fire was started on purpose. There’s no other explanation. No one was watching the area, either. Most of these owners have a lot of debts. How can they manage them now? How can they pay them back? The Manat’s value was already killing us; they want to kill us in the same way. Firefighters arrived late, too, and without enough water. What kind of firefighters are they? Do they go everywhere without water? If they were working properly, the damage wouldn’t have been as bad. If they had come in time and had enough water, they could have stopped the fire before it spread.”
Locals in the neighborhood were witness to the firefighters’ difficulties as well – the water line the firefighters went to for water turned out dry.
The Ministry of Emergency Situations in Baku released the following information: The auto bazaar is 3,000 m2 in size, located in Khatai district. During the fire, car paints, parts, and counters made of flammable materials burned within the 930 m2 area affected by the blaze. The rest of the bazaar was not affected by the fire. Firefighters put out the fire at 10.59 PM,” the ministry reported.
However, some witnesses to the incident said that after the firefighters thought they had the fire under control, until it flared up again in other areas. The fire finally stopped at 1 AM.