Blaze destroys main dome of iconic St Petersburg cathedral

Click to follow

A fire raged through one of St Petersburg's most famous cathedrals yesterday, destroying the main dome and sending staff rushing to save treasured icons.

The blaze in the 19th century Trinity Cathedral, where the novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky is said to have been married, caused the main dome, or cupola, to collapse. As flames leapt from the rim where the cupola had rested, passers-by helped staff in trying to rescue artefacts from the cathedral's renowned art and religious icon collection.

The 80-metre wooden dome, painted azure and gold, was thought to be the second largest in Europe. Along with the rest of the cathedral, it had been covered by wooden scaffolding when the fire started. A helicopter was enlisted to pour water on the building, while firefighters battled to save the cathedral's four remaining domes. One collapsed, but three survived. "We could not stop the fire because it was so high," a spokeswoman for Russia's emergencies ministry said.

The cause of the fire was not clear, but there were no reports of injuries, said Lyudmila Rubasova, a St Petersburg emergency department spokeswoman. There were suggestions that the fire began after a spark from a welder's lamp caused gas cylinders to explode.

The cathedral was built in 1835 and holds up to 3,000 worshippers. Renovation work on the cathedral, which was used as a storehouse during the Soviet era and was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1990, was only just nearing completion.