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Paint factory gutted in Howrah

A Howrah factory with 7 lakh litres of paint and a defunct fire-fighting system was gutted in an early morning blaze on Wednesday.

The flames, fuelled by the inflammable paint, leapt up 40ft and were visible from Vidyasagar Setu, around 5km from the Shalimar Paints factory on Satyen Bose Road in Nazirgunge.

Thirty fire tenders struggled for almost nine hours to douse the fire that broke out around 2.30am in a laboratory inside the 112-year-old factory and rapidly spread to the adjacent warehouse and packaging unit.

Workers and guards used to stay inside the factory at night.

“All of us managed to leave the premises before the fire spread. Nobody was injured,” said estate manager Atin Dasgupta.

A forensic team will visit the gutted factory on Thursday to collect samples to determine the cause of the fire.

The 4-acre factory was close to the Hooghly and there were a few houses in the vicinity. The area is dotted with small and medium-sized industrial units.

Arab Ali Sardar, whose house is around 200m from the factory, was jolted out of his sleep by a shrill noise of siren from the factory. “From my window I could see flames and smoke. It was getting extremely hot out there,” recounted Sardar, who rushed out of his house to join others in the locality in the fire-fighting operation.

But all of them had to beat a hasty retreat when barrels filled with paint started bursting and going up in the air.

“All residents in the area started moving to a safe distance from the factory. But we could still hear the sound of the barrels bursting in the blaze and see them being tossed up in the air, as if a juggler was playing with them,” said Sardar.

Thirty fire tenders from Calcutta, Howrah and neighbouring districts were requisitioned to fight the blaze, which officials said was one of the biggest in the industrial hub in recent years.

“There were 7 lakh litres of paint stored inside the factory. There were also raw materials, paper cartons and plastic containers, all inflammable, in the factory compound,” said Gopal Bhattacherjee, the additional director-general of the state fire and emergency services, who visited the factory after the fire broke out.

The defunct fire-fighting system in the factory made it difficult for the firemen to douse the flames.

“There is a water reservoir but the mechanism to draw water was defunct. Fire drills were never carried out. We had to use our own system to draw water,” said Bhattacharjee.