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Fire kills mother and children

Calcutta, May 18: Eight people, including four children, were killed in a fire that broke out in a building in a congested part of Colootola Street in central Calcutta tonight.

Preliminary reports said five of the dead ' a 30-year-old woman and her four children ' were from the same family. The children were aged between one-and-a-half years and five.

Their father, the owner of a shoe shop, was praying at a nearby mosque when the mishap happened. The three others who died could be the family's distant relatives, police said.

Dipak Sarkar, a fire service official, said preliminary investigations revealed that the fire spread from a kerosene stove that was being used for cooking. People in the neighbourhood claimed that kerosene was being fed to the lit stove when the blaze started.

Fire brigade officials said the fire started in a room on the second floor around 8.15 pm.

Sadiq Amin, who resides on the third floor of the four-storey building ' 18, Colootola Street ' said that around 8.15 pm, he saw thick smoke billowing out of the second floor.

'I immediately raised an alarm and rushed down the stairs to the second floor. I found the room where Mohammad Idris lived with his family was on fire. Fanned by a breeze, the flames were already leaping high, making it impossible for anyone to go nearby,' said Amin.

When fire engines ' eight were pressed into service ' arrived, they found it difficult to approach the building. The fire, however, did not spread beyond the second floor.

A resident said one of Idris's family members had lit the pump stove and was pouring kerosene into it. 'That is the time the fire started. When the fire was raging, a gas cylinder exploded.'

Nirjhar Bhattacharya, a doctor on duty at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, said seven people were brought dead while the woman died soon after admission. The deputy commissioner of police (central), Ajay Kumar, confirmed the deaths.

'Three others have been admitted with injuries, of whom the condition of one is critical,' the doctor said. Three fire fighters were also injured and admitted to the hospital.

Utsa Mitra, the Trinamul Congress candidate in the ward (No. 43), said the building was very old and thickly populated.

Murad Ali Khan, a resident of the building, said those who rushed to help found it difficult to reach the second floor because of the narrow passage and staircase.

'We tried to reach the second floor fast but our eyes were burning in the smoke. We could hear screams of help from the second floor. We then got buckets of water from the neighbours and tried to douse the fire. We managed to drag some of the injured persons out but most of them died on way to the hospital,' Khan said.

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