On the morning of July 10, a fire at a central shopping center in Poti, a port city on Georgia’s Black Sea coast, damaged up to 70 shops, an area of 2,000 square meters.
This most recent fire in Poti is one of twelve major fires that have occurred at a shopping center, bazaar, or other marketplaces in Georgia in the past five years.
On the evening of July 2, 2017, a fire at Tbilisi’s Eliava Bazaar, a shopping area that predominantly sells auto parts and construction materials, completely damaged about 15 stores.
The most notable of these recent fires occurred at the Children’s World Trade Center located in Tbilisi’s central shopping area near Station Square Metro Station on January 30, 2017. The early morning fire completely destroyed the shopping center, affecting 18,000 square meters of retail space over four hours.
Although Tbilisi Mayor Davit Narmania called for an investigation into the exact cause of the Children’s World Trade Center fire, the reason for the fire remains unknown. Narmania had also promised alternative commercial venues or rent-free properties to the workers of the Children’s World Trade Center within 3-6 months after the fire. Six months later, a lack of attention prompted those affected by the fire to protest outside the Georgian Dream party’s headquarters in Tbilisi demanding the government to fulfill its promised compensation.
Responding to the most recent incident in Poti, the city’s mayor, Irakli Kakulia stated: “I am amazed and ask the question of why there are this many fires happening throughout all of Georgia.”
Zaal Udumashvili, the Tbilisi mayoral candidate for the opposition United National Movement, has also expressed concern regarding the recent fires in Georgia. In response to the fire at Eliava Bazaar, Udumashvili issued the following statement:
“The first task is for the government to determine the causes of the fire. Then, they must evaluate the total damage and the mayor’s office should compensate those who suffered damages. In regards to this case, it is very suspicious that over a few months, fires have occurred at two of the most central marketplaces in Tbilisi.”
Aleko Elisashvili, a member of the Tbilisi City Assembly and an independent candidate for Tbilisi Mayor, has also presented the possibility that the fire at the Eliava Bazaar may have been a result of foul play. Elisashvili stated that two potential government projects, the relocation of the bazaar and the construction of a new shopping center in the area, have strangely coincided with the incident at Eliava Bazaar.
“This topic [of the government projects] caused very hot controversy and serious discussions. Finally, the issue was postponed. The Georgian Dream supported leaving the Eliava market in this territory and the arrangement of some infrastructure there,” Elisashvili commented.
Workers at the Eliava Bazaar do not believe the fire was a result of an electrical issue since they shut off the electricity at 8:00 p.m.
Some victims of the Children’s World Trading Center fire believe that their trading center was destroyed intentionally in order to allow the development of new properties at a commercially strategic location.
“I believe someone set fire to the place intentionally. We know of such cases from before when some investors built new buildings in the destroyed area. The same thing happened a few years ago with a furniture shopping center. I ask the authorities to deal with it, because that was the only source of income for hundreds working here,” one victim said.
As citizens await the results of the investigations following each incident, the question of why so many fires have occurred in Georgian marketplaces remains unanswered.
Recent Fires in Marketplaces/Shopping Centers in Georgia:
November 15, 2012 - A fire at Lilo Bazaar, located near the Tbilisi airport, destroys nearly 30 shopping stands and burns approximately 500 sq. meters of retail space.
February 26, 2013 - A fire at the ‘Saba’ shopping center located in Tbilisi, completely destroys the second floor and 6,500 sq. meters of retail space.
August 25, 2014 - A fire at the Senaki Bazaar, located in the Samegrelo-Upper Svaneti region, damages 3,000 sq. meters of retail space and destroys the inventory of nearly 250 store owners.
September 2014 - A fire at the ‘Gyspy Bazaar’ near Tbilisi’s Station Square burns over 2,500 sq. meters of retail space.
November 7, 2014 - Originating at a firework stand in Batumi, a fire spreads to the Khopa Bazaar destroying 50 shopping stands.
December 27, 2014 - Fire at the Eliava Bazaar in Tbilisi damages over 150 sq. meters of retail space, including tires and other automobile parts.
January 21, 2015 - At the Isani Bazaar, an automobile parts shopping center in Tbilisi, a fire destroys up to 15 stores.
August 4, 2015 - A fire at the Eliava Bazaar burns painting materials; a helicopter is required to extinguish the flames.
August 2, 2016 - At the ‘Black Bazaar’ in Zestaponi, a town located in the Imereti region, a fire at night burns approximately 10,000 sq. meters of retail space.
January 30, 2017 - A fire completely destroys the Children’s World Trading center, burning over 18,000 sq. meters of retail space.
July 5, 2017 - A fire covering 1.5 hectares breaks out at landfill at the Lilo Bazaar in Tbilisi.
July 10, 2017 - In the western city of Poti, a fire destroys up to 70 shopping stands at the Poti Bazaar.