One of the world’s largest virus research centers, located in Siberia, was reportedly engulfed in flames after a sudden explosion rocked the secretive compound, known for its stores of Ebola, HIV, anthrax and other strains.
Firefighters and rescue services were scrambled on Monday to respond to a fire that broke out in Koltsovo, a scientific hub several kilometers from Novosibirsk. The situation was quickly upgraded from an ordinary emergency to a major incident as the explosion and fire affected Russia’s research center of virology and biotechnology, often referred to as the Vector Institute.
The laboratory is known for having developed vaccines for Ebola and hepatitis, as well as for studying epidemics and genera issues surrounding immunology. During the Cold War, it was thought to be part of now-defunct Soviet biological weapons program, meaning that some of the most dangerous strains – including that of smallpox, Ebola, anthrax and certain plagues – are still being kept inside the Institute’s building.
With that in mind, a local branch of the Emergencies Ministry swiftly responded to the call, sending in 13 fire engines and 38 firefighters, who entered the six-story building minutes after arrival.
The fire was located and quickly extinguished on the fourth floor where some “construction works” were being carried out.
Reports by local authorities were conspicuously light on detail, with various sources suggesting it was a gas blast that had triggered a fire at the construction site. One construction worker suffered burns to his legs and was taken to hospital for trauma care.
The mayor of Koltsovo, for his part, assured the public that there was no release of hazardous substances in the area. Still, the cause of the blast remains unknown and an investigation has been launched.