MOSCOW, May 10, 2009 (AFP) - A massive fire broke out early Sunday after an explosion on a gas pipeline in the southwest of the Russian capital Moscow, sending flames 200 metres (600 feet) into the sky.
Spectacular plumes of yellow flames and clouds billowing smoke were visible against the night sky, television pictures showed, and officials said the fire was the worst to hit Moscow in decades.
Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who rushed to the scene, said that five people had been injured in the fire, including one man who received 35 percent burns, but there had been no fatalities, the Interfax news agency reported.
He added that the cause of the fire was almost certainly to be technical in nature.
"The cause could have been an upsurge of pressure in the pipeline, as a result of which an explosion took place underground," he added, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.
"I don't remember there ever being a fire like this in Moscow," added deputy mayor Petr Birukov, while Interfax quoted other officials as saying it was the worst in two decades.
The emergencies ministry said the fire was a category five on its scale for assessing such incidents, the most serious level possible. It said that 35 fire brigade units had been sent to the scene.
Birukov added the city's energy system would not be affected. But the municipal telecoms firm said that 80,000 customers had lost their phone connection after nearby underground cables were damaged by high temperatures.
The fire broke out at 0030 local time (2030 GMT Saturday) and at its peak sent flames 200 metres high into the sky. But as dawn broke the blaze had been brought under control and the flames reduced to 30 metres, officials said.
But it was expected to continue burning for several more hours.
The authorities halted all traffic in the immediate area around the fire close to the Michurinsky Avenue in southwest Moscow, RIA Novosti quoted traffic police as saying.
There was no threat to nearby apartment blocks, with the nearest building an adminstrative building 200 metres (yards) away and a 19-storey apartment block half a kilometre distant.
Such fires are frequent events throughout the former Soviet Union due to ageing pipeline infrastructure that has not been renewed in decades.
Over the last months, serious pipeline blasts have taken place in ex-Soviet Moldova and Turkmenistan both caused by technical mishaps.