An explosion in an electrical meter box in a commercial building off Lenin Sarani started a fire that spread to the upper floors within minutes on Thursday morning.
With the lone narrow staircase leading to the five-storeyed building’s main gate blocked by smoke and flames, those inside ran to the terrace and remained there till firefighters doused the flames and rescued them.
The first and second floors of the building, at the Lenin Sarani-Moti Sil Street crossing, house a branch of the Punjab National Bank. There is a guesthouse each on the top two floors.
The explosion in the meter box, which is next to the building’s gate, occurred around 10.10am. Within 10 minutes, the floors above were on fire, the flames spreading along the naked wires that run by the staircase.
“We heard a loud sound and saw fire on the staircase below. We did not know what to do and ran to the terrace in fear,” said Imtiaz, caretaker of Apsara guesthouse on the fourth floor.
A fireman said a short circuit in the meter box sparked the flames. “The meters are devoid of any cover and there was no water sprinkler or fire escape in the building. A water reservoir on the terrace, recommended by the fire department, was also absent. The bank has its own fire extinguishers but its office was yet to open,” said an officer.
About 15 people from the two guesthouses took shelter on the terrace. Four fire tenders and a team from the disaster management group were deployed to fight the fire.
Twelve people, including four women and one child, who had breathing problems after inhaling smoke were taken to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital and discharged after a check-up.
“Had the fire officers not reached on time and the terrace not been open, this could well have been another Stephen Court,” said Gopal Bhattacharya, additional director general, state fire department.
Several people had died in the Stephen Court fire in March 2010 after failing to reach the roof, which was locked.
Thursday’s fire charred the walls of the staircase and the door of the bank branch. “Thank God we arrived a few minutes late. Otherwise we would have been trapped,” said an employee of the bank who arrived 10 minutes after the fire started and had to wait till 11.30am to enter the building.
A fire broke out in a printing and packaging factory in Tangra around 2pm on Thursday and raged for over 40 minutes.
Officers are uncertain about the cause of the fire at Zee Packaging on DC Dey Road. Ten tenders brought the fire under control around 2.40pm and extinguished it around 3.45pm.
A team from the disaster management group rescued six persons from the factory. Nobody was injured. Adhesive, printing ink and other chemicals in the factory were destroyed in the fire.