Sounding somewhat dazed, Lieutenant Colonel Viktor Biront told Life News his story about how and why the naval aviation depot near Kolomna burned. According to Biront, higher authorities were completely informed about his situation days before the facility burned, but ignored repeated requests for assistance.
Biront says firefighters worked to save expensive dachas near his base, but weren’t as willing to help him.
According to Biront, the base he commanded for only three months before the fire had just lost 19 officers and 36 warrants as a result of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s cuts in both personnel categories. He also lost his firefighting unit in February.
Biront describes how he managed to trade his car to get use of a fire engine.
Reports of the value of property lost have varied widely, but Biront indicates they saved most of what was worth saving.
Here’s the interview verbatim:
“The lieutenant colonel dismissed because of the fire relates how he and his sailors saved the air base from fire for 10 days.”
“Relieved of duty as military base commander after the big fire, 43-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Viktor Biront tells in an exclusive interview with Life News how he and his subordinates saved the military unit from the fire.”
“The morning of 29 July the lieutenant colonel went to the perimeter and posted people on the edge of the burning forest.”
“’Everyone worked in the forest – both civilians and military,’ said Viktor Ivanovich. ‘I was there also, only leaving periodically to call and request help. The chiefs of Civil Defense and Emergency Situations came to evaluate the situation. Then a strong wind started – the gusts were nearly 20 meters per second – and drove everything from the depth of the forest. It was terrible to be in the fiery pockets. Here, look – hands, feet all burned. We stood on the perimeter, still 1.5 kilometers from the facility. What a terrible picture – the fire was a wall in the forest. I gave the order to evacuate. I was last to leave there, because I was shouting to the last so the boys wouldn’t die there.’”
“According to Viktor Biront, the firemen arrived only two hours after the call.”
“’It’s as if we don’t exist for the city: neither MChS, nor police . . . no one was with us,’ said the lieutenant colonel. ‘They saved 1.5 million dollar dachas here. There were both cordons and police there. The first help came after several hours – no matter how much I called, how much I asked. Only after a couple hours a firefighting helicopter flew in. We can’t get through there – everything’s burning, everything’s blazing . . . I quickly recounted the people. Then equipment came from Moscow, and by night a deputy defense minister arrived. It was impossible to go in. Sailors were simply suffocating in gas masks – they were saturated with smoke. I gave the command to take them off . . .’”
“The massive fire that destroyed property worth billions of rubles was preceded by 10 days of struggle with the fire. And over these 10 days, the big bosses, despite all requests, didn’t take any clear decision about how to save the air base. In fact, saving it depended only on 40 sailors and their commander. 115 hectares – almost three per man.”
“’I’ve been in the position for three months, they gave me this unit in May in a new composition, after reductions,’ Biront says. ‘They cut 19 officers, 36 warrants. In all 40 sailors remained, eleven sergeants and four officers – and this is all the people for such a large unit. Plus civilian personnel whom I treated with great understanding. I couldn’t send female clerks into the battle with the fire because the average age of my workers is 58-60. The pay is low, 5-7 thousand, only female pensioners who’ve worked here a long time do this work. They also helped as they could. Men came into the forest with axes and shovels – tried to stop the flames.’”
“’The forest near the unit burned for 10 days,’ Viktor Ivanovich continues. ‘I turned to them repeatedly, high officials came, had meetings here, made plans, a certain Mr. Shumeyev – deputy for security, an ecologist came here. The sailors stood two days on the perimeter, not allowing the fire to spread. I called Civil Defense and Emergency Situations. Sometimes they gave help, but sometimes they refused. I didn’t have my own firefighting team – they eliminated it in February of this year. There was simply an ad hoc firefighting team, they dug themselves in and fought by all means. When I saw this was all very difficult – I put my non-TO&E car to use, I had to give it to the firemen. Generally, it’s use is forbidden, we used it because I had to pay money. They brought a fire engine and handed it over there. I secured a driver, whom we used to the fullest extent. We hosed, knocked down flames, in general, battling though I didn’t have specialists. We had to teach our officers who were extinguishing the fire.’”
“’In principle, we coped with the fire the first ten days,’ says the dismissed commander. ‘I reported to Moscow by phone, by morning reports, by faxes. I asked for help. One time they gave equipment. A KamAZ came from Shcherbinka from the airport, poured out two cisterns and went back. Local civilians were all in action – villages burning, the government likewise, then they left 14 castoff portable fire extinguishers, literally the day before the conflagration. They took them from the unit two kilometers into the forest.’”
“They didn’t manage to save the base. Viktor Biront learned about his dismissal on the television news. At this moment he’s again writing a statement in the prosecutor’s office. In this document he indicated that they managed to save property worth 40 million rubles.”
“’My people saved the new equipment. The burned up property there had expired service lives and required repairs. But then everything was finished, all closed, but they told us we were all morons generally. Here it’s burning, and they are crawling through hell and saving equipment. I’m not defending myself, I’ve told it like it is. In theory in three months I should have cleared out everything that grew up in this forest over 60 years. Because in 60 years no one ever did anything there.’”