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Inferno at tinderbox market
- Short-circuit at Kagalnagar, losses pegged at Rs 60 lakh

Around 50 shops caught fire at Kagalnagar market in densely populated Sonari area in the small hours of Thursday, causing losses to the tune of Rs 60 lakh and raising burning questions on blaze preparedness of crowded marts.

The fire, which started at 2.30am at a stationery shop due to a short-circuit, spread to other cheek-by-jowl shops within minutes. It took six fire tenders three hours to control the blaze, successfully preventing the leaping flames from reaching either the petrol pump, only 50 metres away, or the residential area around the marketplace.

On April 27, The Telegraph had reported a survey by the East Singhbhum administration on fire safety measures at apartments, offices, marketplaces and hospitals.

At unplanned commercial clusters such as Kagalnagar, which has asbestos-roofed shops stocked with many an inflammable item, firefighting gear such as extinguishers, sand buckets, hydrants, smoke alarms and water sprinklers are unheard of. As a result, Thursday’s fire, first spotted by hotel employee Tapan Gope, spread to four rows of shops, while owners unsuccessfully tried to douse it with buckets of water.

“Shopkeepers and staff, jolted awake, swung into action, trying to douse the fire with water. But the flames kept rising, engulfing one shop after another,” Gope said, adding that the delay in informing the fire brigade was because shopkeepers thought they would be able to control the inferno themselves.

“Everyone was panic-stricken. They acted on reflex. This is why firemen arrived 30 minutes after the fire was first spotted, increasing the extent of damages,” said marketplace resident Benudhar Mahto.

M.K. Shukla, an official at the government fire station in Golmuri, said six tenders took charge of the situation around 3am. “Three fire tenders came from Golmuri and three others from Tata Steel,” he said.

Of the 50 shops that caught fire, 12 were completely gutted. These include a grocery outlet, two tailoring and two general stores, three fruit kiosks and four stationery shops. Foodgrain and goods of about eight shops were retrieved before they were charred. Owners of scores of other shops that were partly singed, are still assessing their damages.

Sub-inspector N.K. Ram of Sonari police station said the fire was brought under control by 6am.

“The firemen did a fine job under constraints. It is confirmed that a short-circuit caused the blaze. Now, we are trying to estimate the full extent of damages,” said Ram.