| Firemen atop adjacent rooftops train their hoses at the smouldering building on Lenin Sarani. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
It took 50 fire-fighters and 15 fire-tenders five hours to battle the blaze at 5A, Lenin Sarani. But, say firefighters, had it not been for the unauthorised constructions all around the building that denied access, the fire could have been put out in less than half the time, with far less manpower.
We were not at fault. We sent enough fire-tenders and fire-fighters with water to the spot to douse the flames. But our men were helpless, as they failed to get to the building. It was surrounded by a number of big and small shops, said director of fire services Baren Sen. The main entrance to the building, off Madan Street, was so narrow that even a small car could not have got through. So, the fire engines had to spray water from the main road, a distance of about 200 metres. As a result, it took a long time to fight the flames, added Sen.
The structure in which the fire broke out early on Wednesday is sandwiched between two buildings and a market. To its west is a church, with a 10-ft boundary wall, to the east is Opera cinema, and to the south is a small market complex. The main entrance, little more than a narrow lane, has been further eaten up by sign-boards set up by stall-owners.
The fire-fighters tried to reach the building from Metro Gali but failed to get close due to a series of unauthorised stalls. They finally used the Opera cinema entrance and sprayed water, long-distance.
There is not a single inch of space anywhere around the building. So, we had no chance of reaching the building. Apart from a number of stalls, the signboards have occupied a major chunk of the main passage, said Rabin Das, a fire-fighter on the spot.
In case a major fire breaks out in any of these buildings, in the heart of the city, it will be next to impossible to save their inhabitants, he added.
Senior fire-brigade officials said they had repeatedly urged the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and the state government to check the condition of the old and dilapidated buildings and take appropriate action to guard against a blaze. But no action had been taken.
Mala Roy, member, mayor in council, conservancy, said she had no idea about any illegal shop on that stretch. I have not received any complaint from any quarter about illegal stalls or encroachment. I shall, however, take a look into the matter personally and identify any illegal encroachment in the area, said Roy. Civic officials, however, admitted that the buildings around Opera cinema housed many people carrying on business without a licence.