The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Midnight fire claims 8-yr-old

Siliguri, Jan. 29: Tragedy struck Santoshi Nagar at the stroke of midnight.

A cluster of 10 houses in a slum in Ward 5 here was razed to the ground in a fire that also claimed the life of an eight-year-old boy, Shibam Mondal.

The child's mother Kiran could not save him, though she saved the lives of several others, when she dragged out into the open an LPG cylinder from inside her home. Had it exploded, quite a few people would have been killed, said councillor of the ward Saroj Goenka.

The fire appears to have started from a burning candle or lantern for there is no electricity in the bustee, situated off Burdwan Road on the western side of the city. The fire department got a call at 12.15 am and initially sent two tenders. 'But on getting information about the intensity, we sent three more vehicles,' a department official said.

The blaze was brought under control by 1.35 am. 'The material used in the slums to construct houses (usually bamboo and wood) are highly-combustible and so fire spreads rapidly,' the official said. The tenders had returned to the fire station by 1.45am.

But the tragedy lay not in the extent of losses or the fact that 76 individuals of the 19-odd families that used to reside there are now taking shelter at a school nearby. The death of Shibam, the Class I student of Samaj Kalyan Vidyapith, has sent shockwaves through Santoshi Nagar.

'I did not know that he had taken refuge under the bed,' his mother said. She had been busy dragging the gas cylinder out of the room so that it did not explode in the heat of the fire. Shibam had in the meantime sought protection by taking refuge under the bed in his home.

'When daylight broke, the family found the bed completely burnt and the boy's charred body under it,' said Goenka. The boy's father is a cycle rickshaw-puller and has three other children. The mayor, deputy mayor and the councillors of Ward 4 and 5 visited the spot in the morning.

So did urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya, who said a compensation of Rs 10,000 would be given to each household. 'We will also see that the father (Mondal) gets his own rickshaw to ply. Some voluntary organisations are also contributing towards the rehabilitation of the victims,' he said. He added that an award might be given to Kiran Mondal for her presence of mind, which prevented other casualties from taking place.

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