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Investigators: Russian mall security guard turned off fire alarm

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Kemerovo residents lay flowers at the Zimnyaya Vishnya shopping centre in Prospekt Lenina Street, where people were killed in a fire on March 25, 2018. (Maxim Grigoryev/Tass/Abaca Press/TNS)

MOSCOW — A security guard who turned off the fire alarm during a deadly blaze at a Russian shopping mall is being considered a suspect in a criminal case, federal investigators said on Monday.

At least 64 people have died because of the fire, which swept through the Winter Cherry mall on Sunday evening. Firefighters battled the blaze for more than 14 hours.

Emergency exits were blocked, and there was evidence of other safety violations “which led to such grave consequences,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement.

President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to the victims of the disaster and pledged state support. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the victims’ families would receive a million roubles ($17,500).

Authorities have detained several people for questioning, including the lessee of the premises where the blaze is believed to have originated, as well as the person in charge of the company that manages the mall.

The eponymous Kemerovo region, a hub for coal-mining and heavy industry in western Siberia, has declared a period of mourning for the next three days.

Investigators are considering whether the blaze could have been caused by teenagers who, according to a witness, were lighting foam cubes on fire in a play area, regional news outlet Sibdepo reported.

Poor building materials such as cheap plastics have been blamed for enabling the fire to spread quickly. The mall is five years old.

The flames swept through an area of about 1,500 square metres. Authorities are concerned that the building could collapse.

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