Calcutta, March 13: One of the two Dunlop buildings, which made up the financially-beleaguered firm’s city office on Free School Street, was reduced to rubble in a nine-hour blaze that started mysteriously in the dark and then fed on a surprising lack of vigilance as Wednesday gave over to Thursday.
Hours after losing their sales office — that formed a part of the Free School Street facade for the past six decades — to the mystery fire, Dunlop officials in Mumbai said they suspected it was an act of sabotage by “some miscreants and disgruntled elements”. With the fire brigade, too, lodging an FIR to that effect, police started a case of criminal conspiracy and an act of mischief.
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee (speaking from London) threw his weight behind this theory as fire brigade officials wondered how a vacant building that did not have electricity fell to fire.
“The sabotage angle is cropping up because there seems to be no other explanation for a fire that was noticed around five hours after it started,” fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee said.
The fire brigade headquarters — a few hundred metres north on the same street — got a call at 5.20 am from a newspaper vendor when flames were leaping out of the building.
On reaching the spot, firemen failed to locate the origin of the fire and could not break in from the front of the building. Using a ladder, they tried to get in through a first-floor window, but failed.
They then tried their luck with the main door. “It was like a game of blind man’s bluff, but this time we succeeded,” fireman D.P. Biswas said. Another group had set themselves up to prevent the flames from reaching the neighbouring building.
The firemen decided to attack the flames from the top. They climbed to the top floor with ladders and sent a powerful jet of water downwards. The first signs of the cave-in were already visible.
The blackened spots were cracking and crumbling, fire-fighters said. The roof was the first to give way and the weight of the debris took care of the weakened lower floors.
By the time the 30 engines brought the fire under control at 9.30 am, only the wall facing the road was erect; nothing remained of the western wall and the other two walls stood uneasily, waiting to collapse.