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Fire at Rawdon St sari outlet

Firemen try to cut open iron shutter gates to enter Rawdon Street sari store Suchitra. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

A fire broke out at a Rawdon Street sari store, Suchitra, on Friday afternoon.

The sprawling first-floor outlet, which firemen said did not have any safety arrangements, was partially destroyed. Hundreds of saris were damaged in the water used to douse the blaze.

While firemen were trying to cut open the iron shutter gates and use portable exhaust fans to let the smoke out, a group of shop hands was busy throwing sari packets out on the road through a broken glass window. Another group picked up the packets from the road and stacked them in an adjoining building.

Vikas Bhimsaria was preparing to have his lunch around 2pm at his shop, a few metres from Suchitra, when he heard a loud noise outside.

“When I stepped out, there was thick black smoke all over. The building housing Suchitra (5B Rawdon Street) had disappeared behind the smoke. Somebody told me a fire had broken out in the sari shop,” Bhimsaria recounted.

Seven engines took more than an hour to control the blaze. “More than dousing the blaze, the challenge was to let out the smoke that had accumulated inside the store,” said a fireman.

Fire officers suspect an electrical short circuit triggered the fire. “We think the fire originated from one of the air-conditioners that was badly damaged,” said an officer.

The entire portion of the showroom facing the road was blocked with three iron shutter gates that could not be opened. The firemen had to cut open the gates to gain entry.

“We did not spot any fire-fighting equipment in the store. The owners flouted other safety rules, too, such building a false ceiling without taking permission from the authorities, keeping only entry-exit point and installing too many air conditioners (five) compared with the space,” said an officer.

“The fire department does not have any record of the space being used commercially,” said D.P. Tarenia, the director-general of the West Bengal Fire and Emergency Services.

Javed Ahmed Khan, the minister of the fire and emergency services department, alleged that the owners of the shop did not cooperate with the firemen. “We requested them to give us the keys to the shutter gates so that our men could open them to let out the smoke. But they did not co-operate. Instead, the owners ran away. Valuable time was lost in trying to cut open the shutters,” said Khan.

Witnesses and firefighters said hundred of saris were damaged by the water sprayed to control the blaze.

The police had to keep Rawdon Street shut for over one-and-a-half hours while the battle against the blaze was on.

“When we arrived, we saw more smoke than fire. If there was adequate ventilation, so much smoke could not have accumulated inside the shop,” said Tarenia.