Arsonists strike heritage site

  • 2007-08-08
  • By Talis Saule Archdeacon

FIRESTARTER: A fire fighter prepares to leave the site of the Hamana mansion fire. The fire service believes that the fire was deliberately started.

RIGA - Arsonists are suspected to have been involved in a large fire that devastated the historic Hamana Manor House at 41 Slokas Street in Riga. The fire took place at about 1 p.m. on Aug. 5.
The fire consumed approximately 200 square meters of land, destroying the two-story wooden mansion but only slightly damaging nearby buildings. Nobody was injured in the fire.
The manor house, once an exquisite piece of architecture, had been declared a city heritage site. However, it had been abandoned and was falling into a dilapidated state.

"The building was cut off from electricity. There was something strange about [the fire] 's it started somewhere on the roof, and we think that it could not have been natural and was probably caused by people," representatives of the State Fire and Rescue Service told The Baltic Times.
The SFRS press service said that a number of fire engines were at the scene, but the fire was not given any special priority because of the building's heritage status. They said that the fire was treated as any ordinary fire would be.

Riga Mayor Janis Birks visited the site of the fire on Aug. 7. The mayor has stated that SIA "Mono," the company that had rented the building out, would have to cover the expenses of restoring the building.
Inga Sprinke, official spokeswoman for the mayor, said that he is now waiting for a proposal from the company about restoring the building. "[The mayor] decided to give them two weeks to give information to Riga municipality about how they will reconstruct this place," she said.
She noted that the company has been under contract to refurbish the building for nearly 10 years, and now they will finally be forced to honor the contract.

"It must be restored as a historical monument; because in today's contract, which was signed in 1998, it is written that they should already have done that," the spokeswoman said.
Sprinke said that even before taking the post of mayor, when Birks was acting as the deputy mayor, he had thought that it is "interesting" that the company has held onto the contract for so long without renovating the site.

The mayor will now evaluate the company's proposal, due to be submitted in two weeks, and decide whether or not to terminate the contract with the company. The mayor's office said that the estimated total cost of the reconstruction would only be known after SIA "Mono" submits their proposal.
The State Police press service said that a criminal investigation into arson had not yet been launched, as they must first have their own investigation into whether the fire was in fact a deliberate act of arsonists.

Latvia has one of the worst fire safety records in Europe. The poor record is exacerbated by hundreds of fires started by farmers every spring to burn grass 's many of which get out of control and lead to deaths. The country needs as much as 220 million lats (314 million euros) to raise its fire fighting services to European standards.