On the evening of 14 February 2016, when Pooja Sawant was performing at the ‘Make in India’ cultural extravaganza on the Girgaum Chowpatty beach, huge flames erupted from under the stage setting it on fire. Fanned by the winds from the Arabian Sea, the fire spread quickly and within minutes the entire area was engulfed in black fumes and lit up the night sky in an orange hue.
However, the participants and the audience were unharmed and no casualties were reported. The rescue operation went without any glitch and people attending the event, which included the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his family, dignitaries and noted celebrities, were safely evacuated. The fire audit conducted before the programme as well as the disaster management plan for the evening came handy. All the dignitaries and the performers were aware of the various exits and thus at the time of crisis it was easier to guide them out without causing pandemonium. It took 14 fire tenders and 10 water tankers to douse the fire.
Though it was a setback for the Make in India campaign, the rescue operation undertaken during the fire is indeed commendable. Even the Maharashtra Chief Minister praised it.
Here are some of the worst fire disasters in India that will haunt people for years to come:
1. Anaj Mandi Fire Tragedy – Delhi
It is believed to be the second most deadliest fire disaster in twenty years in Delhi, first being the Uphaar theatre blaze. On December 8, 2019, Delhi woke up to a massive fire at Anaj Mandi factory building. The four-storey building was cramped with sleeping labourers. The fire broke out on the second floor of the building around 5 in the morning.
In the incident, 43 people lost their lives and 16 were injured. With the help of 150 firefighters, the fire was doused in four hours from the time of the incident. As per the fire officials, they receive several fire emergency calls, however, the concerned authorities didn’t take any required actions against the illegal constructed factories being run in the tapered lanes.
2. Uphaar Fire Tragedy – Delhi
The fire occurred on June 13, 1997 at Upahaar Cinema in Green Park, Delhi, during the screening of the movie Border. One of the worst fire tragedies in the history of India, this disaster left 59 dead, mostly due to suffocation because of being trapped inside. In fact, at least 103 people were seriously injured in the resulting stampede.
Lack of a functional PA system and emergency lights, foot light and exit lights, blocked gangways, blocked exits with most of the doors locked, and obstruction at available exits due to unauthorised shops were some of the reasons for the even to take such a severe turn. Absence of fire extinguishers and lack of periodic maintenance also contributed towards more casualties.
3. AMRI Fire Tragedy – Kolkata
Another fire disaster, made worse on the account of having taken place in a hospital, occurred at the AMRI Hospital at Dhakuria in South Kolkata at 3 am on 9 December 2011. A short circuit in the basement of the building resulted in inflammable substances catching fire which spread through the hospital at a very rapid rate. The central AC system carried the smoke all through the building, causing asphyxiation and 95 people including members of the staff died as a result.
While the fire broke out at 3am, the fire tenders were called for only at 4 am and by the time they arrived it was 5 am. Meanwhile, local youth succeeded in saving many lives. The rescue operation by the fire brigade was further hampered due to lack of a blueprint of the building plan.
4. Stephen Court Fire Tragedy – Kolkata
A fire broke out in the historical building, Stephen Court, in Park Street, on March 23, 2010. It killed at least 42 people. Apart from the fire brigade taking 80 minutes to reach the spot, there were no proper fire escapes, and the exit from the roof was also blocked with the gate to the terrace locked. The people on higher floors perished for they were trapped with no way out. To add to the woes, the sky lifts, which were supposed to be used for the rescue operation, had been stored far away in Behala and Salt Lake, and took one-and-a-half hours to reach the site resulting in more deaths. The building was old and proper maintenance had also not been done.
5. The Srirangam Marriage Hall Fire Tragedy – Tamil Nadu
This fire disaster occurred on January 23, 2004 in the Padmapriya Marriage Hall in Srirangam. A short circuit in the electric wire connecting the video camera resulted in the thatched roof catching fire, resulting in the death of 57 people attending the wedding, including the groom. Temporary power lines to the unauthorised makeshift thatch were the major reasons of the fire.
6. Kumbakonam School Fire – Tamil Nadu
About 94 school children lost their lives in a fire that occurred in a school at Kumbakonam in Thanjavur District on July 16, 2004. The fire occurred in a building where a nursery, a primary and a high school were running amidst other residential properties. Lack of open space, with closely located classrooms, a very small exit gate, and make shift thatched roofs and lack of ventilation were some of the reasons for such a high casualty rate. With 900 students on roll call in a very small place, and no disaster management plans, the rescue mission was very difficult and 94 innocent lives were lost in this tragedy.
7. Mandi Dabwali Fire Tragedy – Haryana
It’s perhaps the worst in the entire history of fire disasters in India. A fire broke out in a pandal (structure built of bamboo) in Mandi Dabwali on December 24, 1995, and the whole burning structure collapsed over the people attending the annual D.A.V. School function. 300 people, mostly school children, were killed and 100 were injured in the fire with 70-80 with severe burns. The venue of the function was just a four-wall structure with only one exit through a small gate. The fire was due to a short circuit.
Human preparedness with a
plan will see a more efficient rescue operation in case of fire, as was seen in Mumbai. Some of the steps that can be taken are as follows:
- The maximum occupancy limit of a building should not be exceeded.
- In case of temporary structure erected to host a function, a fire brigade and an ambulance should be on the stand by for any emergency.
- The occupants should be aware of the regulations and advice in case of fire.
- The occupants should have a clear picture of the exits available and the location of fire extinguishers.
- The fire extinguishers should be regularly maintained, and easily accessible.
- In case the building has hazardous materials, they should be stored properly as per the norms and regulations laid for the substance.