Firemen spray water on a car in the basement of an Alipore highrise where a fire broke out on Tuesday afternoon. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
A fire broke out on Tuesday afternoon in the basement of an Alipore residential highrise where 16 cars were parked.
Fire officers said the parked cars had fuel in excess of 200 litres, enough to blow up the 12-storeyed Jindal Towers. Five of the cars were partly damaged.
Officers said the fire at 8A Alipore Road broke out at 12.30pm, when a couple of electricians were trying to fix a snag in an electric transformer in the basement, and spread rapidly across the 8,000sq ft parking lot in the absence of any fire-fighting measures.
Sixteen tenders struggled for over three hours to douse the flames.
“Thick black smoke filled the basement and spread to the busy road, reducing visibility to almost zero on a stretch in front of the building for some time,” said a witness.
“Within a few minutes the area in front of Jindal Towers was enveloped in black smoke. We immediately started diverting traffic,” said a sergeant.
The demolition squad of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation had to break the ceiling of the basement to create additional outlets for the smoke.
Officers said firemen toiled almost 45 minutes to reach the transformer because of the smoke and heat.
Several people mentioned the fire in their Facebook updates, urging people to avoid the area. “Major fire in jindal house basement Alipore !!! Hope everyone is safe!! Please avoid that area right now !!!”, read a Facebook post. “Fire was in basement, now under control,” said another, posted at 2pm.
The 12-storeyed Jindal Tower has 35 apartments and is located at the crossing from where a road leads to Kothari Medical Centre.
The building has a Maruti Suzuki showroom on the ground floor.
For the past two days there was no power in the 35 apartments in the building and the residents had hired generators.
As soon as the fire broke out, the highrise was evacuated in a hurry and the power lines that were being fed by a diesel generator were switched off instantly.
“We had to use smoke exhausts and breathing apparatus to enter the basement. The visibility was zero and heat immense,’ said a firemen involved in the rescue operation.
A probe committee formed by the state government after the Stephen Court blaze in 2010 had mentioned in its report that occupants are as much accountable for fires in their apartments as the builders, sparking a debate.
According to the National Building Code, having the electric transformer in the basement is not illegal but the code also lays down certain safety guidelines that have to be followed by the builders and occupants of the building.
“A fire alarm and water sprinklers are a must. Moreover only licensed electricians should be given access to the transformer in case of a snag,” said a former director of the fire department.
On Tuesday, 16 fire engines struggled for over 3 hours to douse the fire and evacuate the smoke completely.
The scared residents from all the floors rushed out of the building as soon they heard the news of the fire.
Many of them were reminded of the fire in the basement of AMRI Hospitals in December 2011 that had claimed 93 lives when the smoke from the fire travelled to the wards on various floors through the AC duct.
Priyanka Himatsinka, a resident of the building, was in the kitchen when one of her neighbours called her up on her mobile and informed her about the fire in the basement.
“I just grabbed my daughter and ran out. I did not even lock the door properly or took with me any valuables. I was just praying that none of us meet the same fate as the people, who died in the AMRI Hospitals fire,” said Priyanka, who was joined by her husband in the next forty-five minutes after she informed him of the fire.
The basement where more than 35 cars are parked did not have fire safety preparedness.
Electric wires hang here and there. “There was fuel in excess of 200 litres in the cars parked inside which is enough to blow up the building,” said senior fire department officer.
Javed Ahmed Khan, minister of West Bengal Fire and Emergency department said that he has ordered an inquiry to determine the cause of fire. “If somebody or a group of people are found to be guilty the department will lodge action a police compliant against them,” said Khan.