Vietnamese traders burnt out in Warsaw mall fire

By Duc Trung   May 13, 2024 | 04:06 am PT
Businesswoman Nguyen Thi Chung rushed to Warsaw’s 44 Marywilska shopping center after receiving a fire alert at 3 a.m., only to helplessly watch flames consume her livelihood.

"When I read the news [of the fire] in traders’ chat groups, I woke up my husband and children in a panic and rushed to the market," said Chung, 47, who owns a clothing stall at block B in the.

Reuters reported that a major fire erupted at the center on Saturday night, destroying a large part of the facility. Home to almost 1,400 commercial units, including numerous kiosks, 44 Marywilska is one of the largest shopping centers in Warsaw, hosting over 460 stalls run by Vietnamese traders.

Drone view of the Marywilska 44 shopping center burning during a massive fire in Warsaw, Poland, May 12, 2024. Photo by Reuters

Drone view of the Marywilska 44 shopping center burning during a massive fire in Warsaw, Poland, May 12, 2024. Photo by Reuters

Chung mentioned that she received the news that the fire had spread through the entire facility while she was en route to the center. Upon arrival, she found herself alongside other traders outside a police cordon, watching flames devour the extensive six-hectare center, with dense black smoke billowing into the sky.

The group of businesspeople stood powerless as the fire obliterated their livelihoods. Many said they had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars stored in safes at their stalls.

"Some were clutching their faces and weeping, lying on the street, not knowing what to do because they had lost everything," Chung recounted. "Some tried to hide their tears, but eventually could not stop sobbing."

Polish news outlets reported that some Vietnamese traders attempted to enter the center to rescue their merchandise and belongings but were halted by security personnel.

The Vietnamese Business Association in Poland described the fire as a "horrific disaster" that resulted in "severe economic losses" for thousands of traders and their families.

Nhat Thong, who owns a nail salon in the center, noted that the fire spread from the first stall to an entire block of 200 stalls within just 10 minutes.

"Nail salons are filled with flammable chemicals, so the fire spread extremely quickly, making bottles of nail polish exploding loudly," he explained.

Maja Nguyen, who has operated a tailor shop in block H for 12 years, observed that despite the presence of firewalls in all the blocks, the fire spread astonishingly fast.

Two fire brigades reached the market 11 minutes after the fire started, but by then, the blaze had already advanced across the roof, destroying two-thirds of the center. The Warsaw Fire Department & Rescue Squad noted that the market had as many as eight points of origin for the fire, necessitating the deployment of 99 fire trucks and drones to help douse the flames.

The department further reported that over 80% of the stalls were destroyed, although there were no casualties. In response, authorities issued advisories to Warsaw residents about the fire, urging them to stay indoors, close windows, and be cautious of toxic smoke.

Mariusz Feltynowski, the commander-in-chief of the State Fire Service, pointed out that the fire doors meant to separate the market blocks had not been closed, contributing to the rapid spread of the fire.

"The fire spread unusually rapidly," he said, according Poland Daily.

Deputy Mayor of Warsaw Tomasz Bratek stated that the 44 Marywilska center is owned by the city government but managed by Mirbud, an industrial construction firm. This company leases commercial units within the center to traders.

Vietnamese businesspeople at the center have staged three protests since the year began, opposing the market owner’s decision to raise rental prices. Now, the fire, whose cause remains undetermined, has further fueled their dissatisfaction.

"My husband and I have lost everything," Than Luong, a clothing store owner at the center, told Wirtualna Polska newspaper. "When we went home to check on our assets, all we had left was US$25."

She also mentioned that their insurance documents were completely destroyed in the fire.

The Embassy of Vietnam in Poland is helping affected businesspeople coordinate with relevant parties to mitigate the effects of the fire. It is also facilitating the issuance of replacement documents for those lost in the fire and has called on Polish authorities for an urgent investigation into the cause.

Numerous Vietnamese families in Poland have donated money through charity groups to support traders left empty-handed by the fire.

Thao, 63, a member of the executive committee of the Vietnam - Poland Heart Association, said the association convened a meeting on the same day of the fire. They agreed on measures to assist the affected individuals, including fundraising, job placement, legal and psychological support, and exploring potential grants from local authorities.

"The fire has left the Vietnamese community in Poland in severe shock," stated Hoang The Diem, president of the association. "Its consequences will last for many years."

After the shock of losing her livelihood, Chung stated that she now "accepts the reality of having nothing" and is gradually calming down to focus on the future.

"As long as we are alive, we have everything," she declared. "We need to wipe away our tears to face the upcoming challenges."

go to top