A fire broke out at the Universal Hall on Tuesday morning, engulfing construction materials that were set to be removed. The incident occurred after approximately 70% of the construction debris had already been disposed of, according to Lazar Arsoski, the contractor overseeing the project. He spoke at a press conference on Friday.

Arsoski, who leads the general contractor business Universal Balkan Skopje, stated that the renovation companies working on the project would cover the costs of the damage.

“Almost 70% of the materials that needed to be dismantled and discarded as construction waste had been removed from Universal Hall. The fire consumed materials that were meant to be taken out of the building. All valuable items, including those meant for museum preservation or reuse, were removed in 2021. What remained were old materials like plywood, steel, and aluminum,” Arsoski explained.

When asked whether the fire had facilitated their work by destroying the materials intended for disposal, Arsoski noted that the fire actually complicated their task. The molten steel now needed to be managed differently than the dismantling process they had planned. “We cannot avoid the contract. The damage will be assessed, and our companies will bear the costs. Any damage to the steel structure will be repaired or replaced with new materials,” he said.

Arsoski confirmed that there were no casualties from the fire, and the project itself did not sustain significant damage. Expert engineers are evaluating the extent of the damage.

Engineer Ljubin Makarovski stated that an audit of the construction activities is necessary before work can resume. “If the metal structure is damaged, it will be replaced. Damaged parts will be repaired or replaced as needed. The portion that caught fire required reconstruction as part of the project’s second phase, which hadn’t yet begun,” he said.

Following the fire, two middle-aged women were treated for mild gas poisoning at the Toxicology clinic. They were in a nearby apartment building when the fire broke out and inhaled smoke after stepping onto the balcony.

No other injuries were reported from the fire. Although renovations were underway, no construction workers were present when the fire started, according to Skopje Fire Department chief Zvonko Tomeski.

Tomeski mentioned that despite the high temperatures and resulting damage to some surrounding buildings, such as melting window shutters, firefighters were able to quickly contain the blaze.

A total of 24 firefighters and nine fire engines were deployed to fight the blaze. The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the police.