Latvia probes major blaze at presidential palace

RIGA (AFP) - Latvian police on Friday began probing the cause of a major roof fire at Riga Castle, official residence of the president, after firefighters battled through the night to bring the blaze under control.

It was "much too soon" to judge the cause but all possibilities, including arson, were being considered, interior ministry official Ilze Peterson-Godmane told reporters in the Latvian capital.

No one was killed or seriously injured, according to state fire and rescue service VUGD, which deployed all available fire crews after flames were spotted shooting out of the roof late Thursday.

VUGD chief Oskars Abolins said an area of more than 3,000 square metres had caught fire, lighting the night sky well into the early hours of the morning and drawing hundreds of onlookers.

"This was the largest and most complicated fire in Riga in recent times," Mr Abolins told state radio.

Riga castle, parts of which date from the early 13th century, is officially the residence and workplace of Latvian President Andris Berzins.

However since September 2012 the chancellery has been located elsewhere while extensive renovation work is carried out, and Berzins prefers to live at his family home.

Mr Berzins described the fire as a "national disaster" during a morning visit to inspect the damage.

The investigation "is likely to take several weeks, and will possibly involve experts from neighbouring countries," police spokeswoman Sintija Virse told the state-run LR1 radio channel.

According to Mr Abolins, firefighter efforts had been hampered by low water pressure and outdated equipment. Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis said he would ask government for more cash for an upgrade.

The National History Museum, also housed in the castle, issued a statement saying its collection had not been destroyed but that firefighters were assessing damage to the building's upper storeys.