Plovdiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office said on August 22 it had arrested and pressed charges of arson against a 44-year-old man in connection with the huge fire that gutted four historic former tobacco warehouses in the city.
Prosecutors said that the man had no fixed abode and had many criminal convictions.
The fire on August 20 started in the building at 13 Exarch Yosif Street, owned by Ripa Ltd, and spread to the other former tobacco warehouses, on Ivan Vazov Street, owned by the same company, to one one Kapitan Andreevo Street and on GM Dimitrov Street, owned by Galaxy Investment Group of Plovdiv.
Prosecutors said that the fire had represented a danger to residents nearby, and the property set on fire had historical and artistic value.
Plovdiv’s Tobacco Town precinct’s warehouses date back to the early decades of the 20th century, when the city had a prominent and lucrative place in the Balkan tobacco trade. The ensemble of buildings, no longer used by the tobacco industry, is meant to be protected by Bulgaria’s Cultural Heritage Act.
The Regional Prosecutor’s Office said that its actions in investigating the case included a visual inspection of the scene, the questioning of many witnesses and evidence such as photographs and videos, including video provided by a citizen who had filmed it as the fire started.
Further inspections would be carried out once the Fire Safety and Population Protection Directorate gave permission, possibly on August 23 or 24, the prosecutors’ statement said.
Forensic examination was continuing to establish how the fire was started, the means used, the precise place where it started and how it expanded to surrounding buildings, the statement said.
The investigation, described in prosecutor’s officialese as being in an “active initial phase” would also cover whether the suspect had acted alone or had been assisted by others.
The accused is currently in 72-hour custody on the orders of the supervising prosecutor.
The fire on August 20 has caused widespread public indignation in Plovdiv and elsewhere about failure to ensure the state of culturally-important buildings meant to be protected by law.
Irate citizens have criticised state institutions for failure to enforce cultural heritage laws, and they are even more aggrieved because the state of the “Tobacco Town” precinct was a matter for national headlines in March at the time of the illegal attempt to demolish one in Odrin Street.
(Photo: (c) copyright Clive Leviev-Sawyer)