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Fire destroys Sikkim bazaar

- Blaze turns to ash 17 houses & stores

Gangtok, Feb. 2: A blaze in Rhenock Bazaar in East Sikkim this morning gutted 17 houses, which stood cheek by jowl and had garment and tailor shops in the ground floors.

No deaths have been reported. A home guard was injured while removing debris and two residents suffered minor burns while making their escape from their homes that were aflame. Fire service officials are yet to ascertain what started the blaze that raged for nearly six hours.

A similar blaze had gutted 10 houses in the same bazaar in 2004.

Five fire tenders were summoned from Gangtok, Pakyong, Singtam and Kalimpong in neighbouring Darjeeling district. The flames that were first seen around 1.30am were doused around 7.30am today.

There is no fire station in Rhenock as the government was unable to acquire land to build the facility. Kalimpong, about 25km from Rhenock, is the closest to the spot. The state capital Gangtok is 88km away.

The fire engines from Kalimpong reached Rhenock about half an hour after the blaze started but by then, the flames had spread to several buildings.

A Gangtok fire service official said many of the 17 buildings in the small market area were made of wood, and in the ground floors of all the buildings there were textile shops or tailors’ outlets. Prakash Rai, the deputy fire officer at Gangtok fire station, said it took a long time to douse the fire as it spread rapidly because of the presence of combustible material such as clothes, shoes and wood.

Residents Sanjiv Kumar, 50, and Ravi Agarwal, 26, suffered burns while trying to escape from their houses.

“I received the information from the block development officer and rushed to the spot. Seventeen houses were gutted in the fire and seven are partially damaged,” said district collector Jitendra Singh Raje. “We are yet to assess the monetary loss caused by the fire.”

The home guard injured while removing debris was identified as Jiwan Pradhan, 40.

Mohammed Waid, a 38-year-old tailor, said: “I heard people shouting. When I woke up, I saw my shop on fire. Before I could do anything, my shop was gutted. I could not save anything.”

Lata Sharma, 27, who had opened a salon a few months back, was shattered after her shop was burnt. “I stay in a village few kilometres away from the market area. The horrific incident has left me nowhere. I am the only earning member of the family. How will I re-build my salon?” Sharma asked.

Satya Narayan Agarwal, 59, who lost his garment and shoe shop in the incident, said he had suffered in the 2004 fire also. “I lost everything in 2004. This incident has brought me back to the same position. I have to again start from scratch.”

Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh for those whose houses were completely damaged, Rs 1 lakh for partial damage and Rs 50,000 for injured persons.