In the evening of February 25, the 1977 of the year in the building of the Moscow Hotel "Russia" began a strong fire. The first signal of ignition at a well-known hotel was received by the on-duty operator of the 01 central service desk at 21.24 Moscow time. Almost immediately, the first call was followed by others - they all gathered about 50 pieces. Called the guests and hotel workers, passers-by. It was clear that we are talking about something serious, and not about a banal fire in the room. The duty guard of the 47 fire brigade commanded by junior lieutenant Alexei Bukanov immediately went to the scene of the incident. When the unit arrived at the scene of the fire, a terrifying picture opened up to the eyes of the fighters — several floors of a hotel, then considered the largest hotel in Europe, were burning at once. The officer did not believe his eyes - it burned at once in three different points of the hotel "Russia".
Junior Lieutenant Bukanov immediately assigned the fifth fire to the highest level of danger, and informed the management of this. In such cases, it was supposed to direct all free forces to the place of fire, which was done. Colonel Ivan Antonov himself, the then head of the Moscow fire department, arrived at the Russia Hotel. An experienced firefighter, who started his service as early as 1941, for 36 years before the fire, Colonel Antonov immediately assessed the extent of the fire at the Russia Hotel. He ordered to immediately send to the building of "Russia" all the forces of the fire garrison of the city of Moscow. Later it became known that 1400 fire brigade employees and more than 150 units of special equipment participated in the hotel’s extinguishing.
"Russia" was the largest Soviet hotel. It housed more than 6000 guests, several hundred staff members worked here. Naturally, such a serious fire inevitably meant human casualties — and considerable ones. Colonel Antonov understood that the first thing to do was to save people. Automotive ladders were required, but a very big problem was rooted there. Although all the fire ladders of Moscow - 19 cars arrived at the building, and then the 19 ladders from the Moscow region, it turned out that almost all ladders are 30-meter and reach only the 7-8 floor. Burned the same and the upper floors of the hotel. But at the disposal of the Moscow fire brigade were only two 52-meter ladder and one 62-meter. This circumstance seriously complicated the conduct of the rescue operation - a huge number of people were located on the upper floors of the hotel. Around 250, people were cut off by fire on the topmost floor of the tower, where the Kremlin restaurant, famous throughout the country, was located.
Firefighters began to rescue the guests and hotel staff. Since there were not enough big stairs, the Moscow fire brigade showed real courage. For example, the fighter Zhuravlev reached the last step of the ladder, after which he lifted the four-meter ladder above himself and was able to hook it to the window sill. So the firefighter became the connecting link between the "attack" and the ladder, every fraction of a second at the risk of falling down. People stepped on the heroic fire officer on the ladder. Many other firefighters immediately followed Zhuravlev’s example.
However, many people were afraid to go down the fire escapes and preferred to stay in the rooms - apparently hoping that the firemen would be able to put out the fire quickly and the flames would not get to their rooms. As it turned out, they were wrong. The fire instantly swept the entire floors of the hotel. People opened the windows, trying to escape in the window openings, and when the flames burst into the rooms, they jumped out of the enormous height of the upper floors of the hotel and crashed to death. Some of the people tried to escape, using improvised means - for example, twisting the harnesses from sheets and curtains.
Of course, firefighters rushed inside the hotel, where they also continued to fight the flame. Quite a large number of guests they managed to save. Lucky for those who remembered classes in civil defense and behaved correctly - did not panic, moistened rags and gagged, nose. From the part of the hotel that suffered most from the fire, the firemen rescued the general of the Soviet Army. The soldier did not lose his head - he dipped rags in water, hung and filled all the holes, including vents, with them, and constantly poured water on the door, preventing fire from breaking into the room. So the general managed to save his life.
When, it seemed, a turning point in the extinguishing of the main building of the hotel came, information came in that the fire spread to the 24-storey tower adjoining the northern building. It housed the most expensive hotel rooms. The panic began. Some parents, hoping to save the most expensive - children - tied them with mattresses, rags, sheets and thrown into the windows. Surprisingly, several children did manage to survive thanks to this. In one of the expensive rooms, the deputy minister of foreign trade of Bulgaria, two of his advisers and the maid who served the number died asphyxiated by carbon monoxide.
The highest-ranking officials arrived to watch the fire extinguishing at the Rossiya hotel: first the first secretary of the Moscow city committee of the CPSU, Viktor Grishin, first arrived, then USSR Interior Minister Nikolai Shchelokov, Yury Andropov, KGB Chairman of the USSR, and Dmitry Ustinov, finally, Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers Alexei Kosygin himself. In the presence of officials of such a high rank, the Moscow firefighter was to work.
Already during the fire, many eyewitnesses paid attention not only to its incredible scale, but also to some of the oddities of fire. So, the flame moved in a completely incomprehensible way. Some floors instantly found themselves engulfed in flames, others remained completely unharmed, although they were located near the fires. And the strongest fire broke out precisely on the upper floors of the hotel, from where it was most difficult to save people. Only by half past one the night managed to stop the spread of fire. Finally, hotbeds of fire were eliminated only at four in the morning.
The Soviet capital has not seen such fires since the war. When the counting of the victims of the tragedy began, it turned out that at least 43 people were killed during the fire. Another 52 person with various injuries - burns, fractures, cuts - hit the Moscow hospital. By the way, since in hospitals, several 20 victims died within a few days after the fire, in fact, the number of victims of the tragedy at the Rossiya Hotel was close to seven dozen people. Moreover, among the dead there were many representatives of the elite strata of the Soviet society - the party and state nomenklatura, as well as foreign guests (the same deputy minister from Bulgaria and his advisers). Colossal damage was also inflicted on the hotel itself, which was once considered the best in the Soviet Union. Completely burned out 87 numbers, a series of floors collapsed.
Almost immediately after the liquidation of the fire in Moscow, rumors began to spread - the fire happened “not just like that.” There were several versions of what happened, but the fact that there was an arson, today, many eyewitnesses of those events converge. In favor of arson said that the fire had a lot of fires. The fire brigade, having coped with one section, moved on, but suddenly there was some kind of cotton, again a flame appeared. In the tower, the center of ignition turned out to be near the only staircase, as if specially cutting off its inhabitants and guests to the path to salvation. Although the investigation into the fire case began literally the next day after its liquidation, it turned out that a lot of material evidence disappeared. For clearing the rubble to the hotel sent soldiers from the civil defense regiment, and it was after their work that many important evidence was lost.
But, as usual, they began to search for the guilty - and, according to the old Russian tradition, we found them in the person of the hotel staff. The director of “Russia” and the chief engineer were removed from their posts, and then the alleged direct perpetrators appeared. They were the head of the low current service of the hotel, who was sentenced to one and a half years imprisonment, and the senior engineer of the low current service who received a year of imprisonment. Allegedly, through their fault, someone left a soldering iron plugged into the outlet. Of course, there is no doubt that the scapegoats were chosen. But neither then nor in subsequent years, no one tried to return to the question of what really caused the terrible tragedy in the largest hotel in Moscow.
The official version of the forgotten soldering iron, of course, did not withstand any criticism. Many Muscovites began to speculate that allegedly behind the fire in the hotel was the capital's criminal realm - they say, so the gangsters dealt with the competitors who rented hotel rooms. However, this version, of course, was not like the truth. But the state security agencies tried to do everything possible to stop the discussion of the fire in the hotel "Russia". To start writing about the fire, the Soviet press was banned - in the newspaper Trud, for example, there was only a small note about the tragedy with condolences to the dead.
It was also said about the arson of the building - only by whom? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is unknown and now, forty years after the fire and the death of people. Those interested in such a large-scale fire could be both opponents of the Soviet Union, that is, the West, the United States, and some internal political forces that were counting on a gradual destabilization of the situation in the country. It was the end of 1970-s that became the period when a bomb was laid under the Soviet Union, which exploded at the turn of 1980-1990-s. It is possible that the fire in the hotel "Russia" was only one of the links in the chain of a powerful campaign to demoralize the Soviet population, to discredit the Soviet government.
Now, after 26 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there can be no doubt that there were real enemies in the ranks of the Soviet party and state leadership, right up to the highest people. They were ready for any provocation and any blood in order to facilitate the change of the existing power, and maybe the collapse of the Soviet state. Probably that is why no one else returned to the topic of investigating a fire in the hotel "Russia".
Suffice it to imagine what the reaction of Soviet society would be if law-enforcement agencies were then allowed to tell the law about arson. That it was not a "short circuit" and not the negligence of the hotel workers, but a planned terrorist act. If it were possible to establish that behind the fire and the deaths of dozens of Soviet people and foreigners are the same Americans or people who work for them, this could seriously change the attitude towards the United States even of many metropolitan inhabitants who admired the "cultural and democratic West." Vitaly Mazurin, the most famous Soviet and Russian architect who led both the hotel project and the construction of the residences of Soviet and Russian leaders, has said in his interview today that the fire at the Russia Hotel is a matter of Western intelligence services.
There is a more prosaic version - Viktor Grishin, the first secretary of the CPSU MGK, has long been considered as one of the likely successors of Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev as secretary general. However, he had rivals, in the first place - the all-powerful chairman of the KGB of the USSR, Yuri Andropov. Such a large-scale event as a fire in the hotel "Russia", and with numerous casualties, could have cost Grishin a party career. But Viktor Vasilyevich retained the post of first secretary of the CPSU MGK, and even to “Gorbachev's times”, having survived not only Leonid Ilyich, but Andropov too. Really, someone who tried to remove Viktor Grishin from among the candidates for the post of the first person of the Soviet state decided to commit such an atrocious act how to organize arson of a hotel in the center of Moscow, which killed dozens of innocent people? This version seems incredible. However, it is in her favor that the KGB did not promote the arson version. After all, even if the hotel were set on fire by foreign saboteurs or terrorists, the dubious spot would still lay down on the image of the Soviet Chekist. It was much easier to pass a fire in the hotel "Russia" as a result of the negligence of ordinary employees of one of the hotel services.