A fire at a residential-cum-office building on Bentinck Street on Wednesday revealed violation of several safety regulations, some of them reminiscent of the Stephen Court and Surya Sen Market disasters.
Residents of Bentinck Chambers alleged that they had to break open a collapsible gate on the first-floor corridor to access the rear staircase. The terrace, the corridors and even the fire extinguishers were locked up and inaccessible.
“The main exit on Bentinck Street was engulfed in dense smoke and fire. We had to kick open a locked gate in the middle of the dark corridor to escape from the Crooked Street end,” said Kalim Khan, a resident. A locked door to the terrace at Stephen Court had proved fatal for many.
Four fire tenders brought the fire, which broke out at 4.25pm in the meter box on the ground floor of the five-storey building, under control within 20 minutes.
This was the third fire in as many years at the 50-year-old building on Bentinck Street.
Yasmin Khan, who was in her room with her daughters, Sophiya, 4, and Afiya, 5, said Wednesday’s fire was similar to the one that broke out a year back. “That one was at dawn... Today when I saw a thick blanket of smoke, I dropped everything, grabbed my daughters’ hands and rushed to the exit through the broken collapsible gate,” she said.
After the previous fire, the wiring on the ground floor was overhauled. Two extinguishers were installed next to the meter box but they remain locked behind a metal grille. The building does not have the mandatory water reservoir.
Fire service personnel reprimanded the caretaker, Mintu Sheikh, for keeping the meter box and terrace locked.
The narrow corridors were also locked in the middle and lined with furniture, cartons and rubbish, much like the Surya Sen Market, where 21 people were killed in a fire earlier this year.
Around 30 families live on the first floor of the building, which also houses 70-odd commercial establishments.
Pravin Popat, the proprietor of Bentinck Chambers, could not be reached on phone.
“I have received news of the fire but cannot comment on it or the alleged violations till I get an official report from the divisional officer who visited the spot,” said Gopal Bhattacharjee, the additional director general of the Bengal fire and emergency services.
Another fire broke out in the basement of a building on Bidhan Sarani. Four engines took an hour to douse the flames.