Fire engulfs our home
Loyal till the last
We shall overcome
Voices of friends rise above fire
To our readers

 
 
FIRE ENGULFS OUR HOME 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 3 
A massive blaze ravaged the top floor of ABP Limited?s four-storeyed building in central Calcutta early this morning. One employee died of suffocation.

Another employee was missing till late this evening. The fire brigade said it is too early to ascertain the cause of the fire or the extent of damage. Thirty-six fire tenders fought the blaze for nearly 10 hours and brought it under control at 3 pm.

The third floor houses the editorial office of the 77-year-old Anandabazar Patrika and the circulation, advertisement and accounts departments of the company. Scores of journals and historical documents in the second floor library have been damaged.

All the departments housed on the third floor have been reduced to ashes, including computers and other equipment. Only last year the editorial office of Anandabazar Patrika was completely renovated and computerised. The building was constructed in the early 50s.

The forensic department will investigate the fire.

Employees first noticed smoke emanating from the lift around 4.30 am. Ashok Majumdar, a photographer with Anandabazar Patrika, recounted the incident, ?I was on the second floor when I saw the lift covered by a veil of smoke. I opened the glass door and thick waves of smoke rushed in.??

He rushed down the stairs to the ground floor and alerted guards. ?I then went to the reception. I thought that all the telephone lines would be down. Luckily, the phones were still working and I informed the fire brigade and Lalbazar,?? he said.

Thick curls of smoke billowed from the building when the fire brigade arrived around half-an-hour later. In minutes, orange-yellow flames were leaping out of the northwestern side of the third floor. They flickered and danced from one window to another as fire personnel set up their gear.

The blaze spread quickly and the flames licked the building, which was now enveloped by thick, black smoke. Firemen, some wearing masks, entered the building while a turn-table ladder sprayed water on the inferno.

?The heat was intense and the smoke was choking us. We found it extremely difficult to fight the fire,?? said a fire brigade personnel. A strong burning smell wafted across as employees, who had arrived from all corners of the city on hearing the news, watched in disbelief.

Driven by a gentle breeze, the flames raced through the third floor, gutting the offices. Just as the fire brigade thought it had the blaze under control, black smoke would emerge from a corner. ?The flames seem to be playing hide and seek. We douse one side and minutes later, there?s smoke on another side,?? said a fire fighter.

Calcutta Municipal Corporation officers joined in the operation. Armed with large hammers, they went to the third floor and smashed windows to let the noxious fumes out. White smoke gushed out of the smashed windows and fire personnel reached deep into the third floor, spraying the flames with jets of water.

Around 11 am, the fire started to calm down. A sense of relief replaced horror as a light drizzle replaced the hot sun.

But it lasted for brief minutes. The ominous sign of black smoke appeared on the terrace and the flames wreaked further havoc as the third floor roof cracked and caved in. Columns of black smoke curling out of the building could be seen as far as from Howrah bridge. The intense heat cracked windows, which were reduced to shards by little explosions.

Around 12.30 pm, fire brigade personnel carried out Kinkar Kumar Jana, a peon who had voluntarily stayed back on the third floor reportedly to attend to phone calls. He was rushed to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital where he was declared brought dead.

Kamal Kumar Samantha had a close shave. ?I woke suddenly when I thought I was choking. I was on the northwestern side of the building. I saw the fire rushing towards me and panicked because all routes were blocked.??

?I knew that I had to get out. I also realised that no one would come to my aid because my shouts for help would not be heard. The next second I remembered that there used to be a rope in the room. I would have to take my chances. So I secured the rope firmly and then looked below. With a silent prayer on my lips, I caught the rope tightly and then slid down,?? he said.

Even as he recounted his miraculous escape, firemen continued to battle. The fire engines emptied their water tanks, drove to the BBD Bag pond to refill and returned. Fire personnel relentlessly continued to douse the stubborn blaze.    


 
 
LOYAL TILL THE LAST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 3 
Kinkar Kumar Jana, a peon on duty on the third floor, is the only person to have died in the blaze at the offices of ABP Ltd that broke out early Friday morning. Five persons, including two firemen, were injured.

Aged 38, Kinkar hailed from Balishai Norondia village near Digha in Midnapore. He was associated with the company for almost 20 years having started his work at the ?Town? section of the circulation department. He was assigned to the third floor some months ago.

According to reports, Kinkar, who was one of the peons responsible for the safe custody of the chief editor?s room, was sleeping when the fire started at around 5 am.

He was woken up by the commotion down the corridor at the western side of the building. He was in a room next to the chief editor?s office on the eastern side. Seeing that the blaze was at a distance, he reportedly stayed back in the room to answer phone calls.

But the blaze and the smoke spread rapidly and he apparently became unconscious because of the suffocating smoke.

He was brought out from the building in this state by firemen and rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Kinkar is survived by his wife and two children. He was known to be a conscientious and loyal worker?the fact that he did not leave the office when he could have indicates this.

Kinkar, whose left hand was affected by polio in childhood, was brought to the ABP fold when he was 17 years old.    


 
 
WE SHALL OVERCOME 
 
 
 
 
A crisis or a disaster is always disheartening. But it is also a challenge. A challenge before the institution facing the crisis and before the human beings who work in that institution. The ABP group faced such a crisis early on Friday morning when a fire devastated the entire third floor of its premises. But the fact that readers this morning are able to read the Anandabazar Patrika and The Telegraph is the best evidence that the crisis has been met and the challenge successfully overcome. It is a matter of pride and a sign of the commitment of the ABP group to its wide and loyal readership that the two dailies are available in the market this morning.

There is sorrow and gloom at the pieces of history and hard work which have been destroyed by the fire, but the prevailing mood is not informed by pessimism but by a determination to work against the odds and to honour the commitment to readers to be the first and best with news and views. In the literal sense, this has been the ABP group?s trial by fire: the mood is of rising from the ashes.

The determination and the optimism are rooted firmly in history. This is not the first crisis that the ABP group has faced in its long and distinguished career. Nationalism was present at the birth of the group and the latter always felt in those heady days the wrath of the British government. If that threat was overcome by the spirit of nationalism, it was courage that enabled the group to stand above the oppression and the pettiness of the Emergency. Political combativeness and discrimination are things that the ABP group has learnt to live with and even, perhaps, to enjoy. But a fire is a danger of a different kind. It is not within the realms of the expected. It strikes without any warning. This is where Friday?s menace was radically different from the previous threats that have hovered over the ABP house. Stepping over the trail of destruction and shock that the fire left in its wake required an act of will. Today?s edition epitomises that act of will.

An act of will, according to most philosophers, is a reflection of a consciousness. For The Telegraph, what is that consciousness? It is the commitment to meet the expectations of readers and well-wishers. It is the commitment to stand above calamity and sorrow, even one?s own, and to remain true to one?s calling. It was this consciousness that was writ large over the faces of all who work in The Telegraph as they stood transfixed by the horror of the inferno that engulfed the top half of the building in which they work. This consciousness is the driving force which is in your hands this morning.

The Telegraph has promises to keep, pledges to honour. Working against odds and with limited resources were constraints that the fire imposed. The drive to overcome the consequences of the fire originated from the desire to keep the promises and the pledges. The fire destroyed part of the building but it has served to rejuvenate in The Telegraph the determination to do better, to overcome challenges. Grow with The Telegraph. The best is yet to be.    


 
 
VOICES OF FRIENDS RISE ABOVE FIRE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 3 
From the newspaper vendor to the VIP, from the bureaucrat to the passerby, thousands came out with their support for the ABP group of publications after the news of the fire that raced through the organisation?s building in central Calcutta spread across the country.

In the midst of campaigning in Bellary, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi called up editor-in-chief of ABP group of publications, Aveek Sarkar, to enquire about the blaze. ?I am very concerned about what happened. Please let me know if I can help in any way,? she said.

As soon as the news spread early this morning, West Bengal fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee rushed to the spot. Along with him, came member, mayor-in-council, Kanti Ganguly. Both supervised firefighting operations till well into the afternoon. Ganguly was heard telling civic employees to shelve everything else and prioritise salvage operations in t he building. Local MLA Ajit Pande also pitched in.

As morning melted into a humid afternoon, more and more VIPs poured in in front of the scorched building. Mayor Prasanta Chatterjee, Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, industrialists R.P. Goenka and Sanjeev Goenka, ignored the muddy pools eddying on the road and stood beside the employees of the organisation.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu telephoned his aides repeatedly to find out how much progress the firemen were making in battling the blaze.

Among those who wrote in to enquire about the tragedy were editor-in-chief of The Statesman, C.R. Irani and British deputy high commissioner Simon Scaddan.

Many readers of the ABP group?s publications pleaded that they be allowed to break the cordon the police had thrown around the place. But they were not allowed to come too close to the burning building.

CPM leaders Anil Biswas and Biman Bose arrived on the scene and immediately promised all help possible to ensure that the group?s dailies, Anandabazar Patrika and The Telegraph, were published tomorrow.

In the evening, home (police) minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya and Asim Dasgupta came from Writers? Buildings. ?This is traumatic,? the finance minister said. ?I can?t believe my eyes. We must all ensure that the publications can come out in spite of the tragedy,? he said.

The library of ABP group ? said to be one of the best in the city ? has been affected. It has not been burnt, but water has seeped in and caused some damage. Bhattacharya expressed concern about the state of the library.

Among others who visited the spot were Trinamul leader Sudip Bandopadhyay, Trinamul MP Ajit Panja, ministers Nandagopal Bhattacharya, Srikumar Mukherjee and Subhash Chakraborty, Congress leaders Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Sadhan Pande and Pankaj Banerjee and CPM leader Rajdeo Goala.    


 
 
TO OUR READERS 
 
 
 
 
The Telegraph website could not be updated yesterday because of the fire in our office. We hope our readers will bear with us.

We have shifted our operations to 14 Madan Street. Our new numbers are: The Telegraph-2216604, 2216605,

Anandabazar Patrika- 2378000, 2216600,

email: [email protected]; [email protected]

Advt-2378768, 2367588. Fax: 2368169    

 

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