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Myths and facts about fire - Beslan School Hostage Crisis
beslan
beslan
Myths and facts about fire
On September 3, Beslan School caught on fire, which led to 116 people being burned beyond recognition. Fire became a valuable source for conspiracy theorists, who claimed that it began right after the first explosions (i.e. around 13:05) and was a direct consequence of "flamethrowers used to kill the hostages". A myth about flamethrowers being used on a gym full of hostages has to be covered separately due to complexity of the evidence; however, let's look at the facts about fire.

Here is a well-known photo of a fire ravaging through the Beslan School Number One gym.



This photo was taken by a photojournalist Dmitry Belyakov. His camera, like many modern digital cameras, was equipped with something called EXIF. This abbreviation stands for Exchangeable Image File format, which is a standard that specifies the formats for images, sound, and ancillary tags used by digital cameras and other systems handling image. EXIF allows recording the date and time, when the photograph was taken; camera’s flash mode, exposure time, focal length and other technical data. The actual EXIF code containing information about the photograph can look something like this:

exif

The full code is actually much longer but the most important part for our purposes is where a timestamp is recorded. On the aforementioned photograph, the timestamp looks like this:

exif3

“Translation”: the photograph was taken on September 3rd, 2004 at 14:19. One would exclaim that the timestamp clearly says “14:19” and, given the magnitude of fire, it clearly started long before the photo was taken.

When I was in process of writing the Wikipedia article, I personally contacted Belyakov with some questions. During our exchange of emails he stated that he dropped his camera during one of his assignments abroad. The camera had to be fixed and reset. Since then, he simply didn’t bother with getting the timestamp fixed as he thought it was unnecessary. All the photos taken by him in Beslan were stamped one hour early. E.g. some of his photos that show fleeing hostages are time-stamped between 12.00 and 12.15 even though the first explosions took place at 13:05. Therefore, EXIF information from his Beslan shots should be read as “time plus 1 hour”, which means that the photo of the blazing fire was taken at 15:19.

Belyakov also shot a set of photos that became world-famous . They captured a frail little girl by the name of Aida Sidakova lying on the ground near an adult woman. The woman later got up and walked away. Seven year-old Aida, who went to the first grade two days before, was shocked, wounded and had her leg broken in multiple places. Nevertheless, she slowly got up and crawled back inside the gym looking for her mother.

The first photo that has Aida on it was taken at 13:54. The timestamp said:

exif2

Here's what it looked like.



As we already know, this photo was taken at 13:54 (12:54 + 1 hour camera timer adjustment). The whole set with Aida was taken between the 13:54 and 14:07. At least 41 shots were taken. There is not a single sign of fire on these photos even though they were taken almost an hour after the first explosions and aside from the poor little girl they show big parts of the gym.



This photo is stamped at 14:07 (13:07+1 hour). Still, no signs of fire.

There is also testimony from Andrey Gagloyev, a combat engineer who was disarming bombs that didn't go off. It will be detailed later.

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