As a pall of gloom prevailed over Ajinkya Plaza, a residential apartment in Gokulpeth, following a fire tragedy that claimed five lives including two children, serious questions have been raised not only by the residents but public representatives about the efficacy of fire services in the city. The emergency fire services reportedly reached almost an hour late at the fire site despite being given several alerts.
The residents believed that had the fire tenders reached in the nick of time, the flames could not have been turned to such enormous proportions. It may be mentioned that the basement of the apartment caught fire in the wee hours of Friday. The five deceased who tried to escape, were trapped in the lift leading to their deaths due to choking and fire. While speaking to Nagpur Today, Corporator Parinay Fuke said that the fire department arrived only after Police officers called them. When he had called the fire department, the fire department personnel had allegedly told him that the driver is not present and that as soon as he comes, they will reach the site.
Many officials decried the incident. DCP Abhinash Kumar, ACP Aade, PSI Deotale, and Duty Officer of Ambazari Police Station Rithe had arrived at the spot and carried out inspection. They had difficulty in controlling the curious onlookers who were pouring in from all quarters.
Deceased chose wrong escape route
One of the eye-witnesses and a resident of Ajinkya Plaza, Jaspal Singh Pashar, a resident of Flat No 202 & 203 said that he too arrived midnight at 12:10 am. He said that when he arrived, the North East Side of the parking lot was ablaze. The fire was so intense that many two-wheelers were on fire. The fire engulfed the two-wheelers which were parked in the centre. The flames were rising through the air shaft as well as side-ways to the boundary walls. He said that the deceased had unfortunately chosen the wrong means to escape the fire. Pashar said that the wooden door of the lift had caught fire by the blast and the petrol from the two-wheeler had spilled onto the lift door. He added that the fire department had arrived as late as 45 minutes to 1 hour. He also alleged that when the residents had informed the MSEDCL, they had allegedly asked the residents to ring the toll-free number provided on the electricity bill.
Flames melt TV
Another resident of Flat No 103 named Prakash Jain said that he came to know about the fire only after hearing the noise of people shouting from outside the building. He immediately tried to go out but since the flames were leaping out through the air-shaft and from the lift. He moved his family to the balcony and started spraying water through a water pipe. He said that the TV situated near the window of a Flat No 401 or 402 had practically melted. Smoke and black fumes had blackened most of the houses. He also said that most of the goods, coolers kept in the balconies on the right side of the building had melted or destroyed. He also claimed that 10 vehicles were turned to ashes.
Mayor laments poor fire services
While speaking exclusively to Nagpur Today, Mayor Prof. Anil Sole said that it is an unfortunate incident and should not have happened. He said that emergency services should respond immediately to such crisis. He also added that crisis management departments like Fire Brigade and MSEDCL should respond immediately which was not done in this case. He said that had the fire department arrived a little earlier the lives could have been saved. He assured of a thorough investigation into the matter and also to take action against erring staff.
Line men risked lives to evade loss
Nagpur Today spoke to Deputy Executive Engineer of MSEDCL Naik who was at the scene. He denied the charges leveled against MSEDCL staff and claimed that their personnel did respond immediately to the crisis though they have directives to respond only after being directed from their call centre (based in Pune). He claimed that only because of the courage shown by some line-men who braved the risk of an electric blast and instant incineration and pushed the plunger off putting the entire area to darkness but avoided the fire to turn into an electric fire too. The electric cable running from the area had 11000 Volts or 11 KV flowing through them.
Charred beyond recognition
Corporator Parinay Fuke added that such kind of crisis should be taken seriously by the emergency services. He has assured the residents to provide manpower to clean the parking lot of burnt debris of the vehicles. He added that by the time the fire department broke open the door of the lift, the bodies had turned into a mass of flesh.
An eye-witness named Dande said that he had rung the number 108 for Ambulance Services of NMC which is said to be standing at a short distance from the site of fire. The number is attached to the call centre situated at Pune. Dande had difficulty in explaining the address and finally after nearly 1 hour, an ambulance from RBI square was dispatched to the site.
Nagpur Today contacted the Fire Department on the 101 number which was constantly coming engaged. After nearly 1 hour they responded and claimed that the call about fire at Gokulpeth came at about 12:36 am and within few seconds the fire tender were dispatched. They claimed that 3 fire tenders were dispatched. However, eye-witnesses reported that all the three fire tenders arrived one after the other.
What caused fire?
However the reasons behind the massive fire is yet to ascertained, a question that is baffling everyone is how did a two-wheeler, which was parked in the basement catch fire on its own. When by 12 midnight the temperature is pretty cool as compared to the day time, then what caused the raging inferno? Moreover, the rapid spread of fire could not be explained by any official of the emergency services.