TALLINN - Police and technical experts are continuing their investigation into the cause of a dramatic blaze that broke out at the Tivoli Tuur fun fair in the town of Rakvere on May 18, injuring several fair-goers. Estonia's newspapers have been dominated by spectacular images of the nighttime fire, which started around 11 p.m. when the base of a fast-moving carousel-type ride suddenly burst into flames.
Fair operators immediately shut down the ride and evacuated passengers, but not before many of them sustained burns that required treatment in a hospital. Fire fighters were able to get the blaze under control in less than 10 minutes.
Sirje Kiiskula, head doctor at the Rakvere hospital, told The Baltic Times that 31 patients were admitted with first and second degree burns, mostly to the hands and face. An additional 10 were checked for possible problems due to smoke inhalation, but were found to be unharmed.
Most patients were quickly released to continue treatment on an out-patient basis, though six were sent to the Central Hospital in Tallinn out of concerns that they might later develop respiratory problems from breathing toxic smoke. As of May 21, five remained in hospital, but showed no signs of developing breathing difficulties and were due to be released shortly after press time.
All patients are expected to make a full recovery.
Mystery still surrounds the nature of the fire, however, which destroyed five plastic gondolas and the ride's electrical system.
Lauri Viikna, the producer of the Tivoli Tuur event, said the fire started out of nowhere and quickly developed flames five meters high.
"It was like an explosion. Something exploded down underneath, and then a big flame appeared," he told The Baltic Times.
"We rescued the people in two minutes and the fire department came in three minutes and everything was over very soon," he said.
The press secretary for the Estonian prosecutor's office, Kristiina Herodes, said that investigators were currently looking into whether a detached oil hose inside the mechanism was the cause, but she said that the analysis was ongoing and may take weeks.
Viikna, who stressed that the carnival rides were run by a separate Swedish firm and only one part of the larger Tivoli Tuur event, told Postimees that the ride had passed its technical inspection in Sweden in April.
The day after the fire, the city of Rakvere canceled the company's permit to operate rides and its public gathering license. However Viikna said that, despite the fire, there was no reason the event wouldn't continue to travel around Estonia this summer as it has been doing every summer since 1996.
Speaking about when he expected to hear the results of the investigation, he indicated that he wasn't concerned that the process may take a long time.
"For us it's of course a big shock," he said. "But it doesn't change anything. The accident happened, people got hurt, insurance is dealing with the problem, so for us it doesn't matter one way or the other."
Viikna downplayed the seriousness of the accident, pointing out that no major injuries had occurred and that many of those the press earlier tallied as "injured" were in fact people who had turned up at the hospital's request as a precaution, but were in fact unharmed. "It could be much worse," he said.