Delhi fire: A Sunday morning that no one wished for

By Ananya Bhatnagar

New Delhi: Instead of waking up to the rising red sun on a cold Sunday morning, residents of the national capital’s Anaj Mandi woke up to thick smoke and trapped voices calling out for desperate help from inside the factory which was ablaze.

“I woke up around 5:20 in the morning when I heard cries from the factory, people were shouting ‘Hume Bacha Lo’ (Please save us). I along with some men of our locality tried our best to save two people. However, I am not aware about the cause of the fire,” said Mohammad Abid whose house is located behind the factory.

The narrow lanes coupled with single entry and exit points posed a big hurdle for the Delhi Fire Services as the tiny passages which can barely accommodate a single person could not provide smooth passage for the big fire truck which came to rescue the people and douse the flames.

“After 4 AM, we heard screams and cries from men, seeking help. That’s when the fire brigade was called. It was a horrific sight to see so many of them standing at the windows, screaming for help,” said Kafeel, another resident who witnessed the incident in the morning. Located within a kilometre from the fire station, the factory lacked all fire safety norms and was in no way qualified for a fire safety test.

“Many factories are being run in residential colonies and most of them are functioning without licences. Such factories do not even have fire extinguishers and avoid mandatory fire safety norms,” said the official adding that the death toll would not have gone up if it had adhered to fire safety norms and constructed in open place, which is mandatory as per factory bylaws.

“I saw fire officials taking out five men and couldn’t stand longer. It was a depressing sight,” Gulab narrated. “We reached here at 9:45 a.m. First, we carried out a search and rescue operation. Initially rescuers with self contained breathing apparatus went inside and carried out a search and checked if there is any chemical hazard. Afterwards, we went inside and checked all the floors thoroughly and removed the surface victims,” said a senior National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) official.

While the DFS, NDRF and Police conducted swift operations to rescue the trapped persons, the Centralised Accident and Trauma Services (CATS) with its 26 ambulances deployed for the rescue shifted the victims to the hospital.

“We received a call around 5:00 a.m. in the morning, immediately 26 ambulances were deployed at the spot. Most of the patients died due to smoke while there are some who have received serious burns too,” CATS control room in-charge told IANS.

The police have registered a First Information Report (FIR) against the owners of the factory and some others under section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). “Two people including the owner of the building – Rehan has been arrested. The case is now transferred to the Crime Branch,” said Anil Mittal, Additional PRO, Delhi Police.

This is the third major fire incident in the national capital after the Uphaar tragedy in 1997 and the Arpit Hotel incident which occured in February this year. While the Uphaar fire killed 59 people and injured more than 100, the hotel fire incident claimed at least 17 lives.