The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Flame blame in trade hub

A Wednesday morning fire gutted a building, destroyed a pile of goods, sparked trouble between inhabitants and fire-fighters and raised critical questions about safety levels in the city’s trade hub.

A blaze broke out in a two-storeyed building, at 5A, Lenin Sarani, at around 8.30 am on Wednesday. Fifteen tenders took about five hours to fight the flames and the fumes in the congested area.

The police and the firemen faced the fury of local traders, who alleged that they had arrived “too late” at the site. The agitated traders also alleged that the fire brigade did not have the necessary equipment or enough water to douse the flames.

Police said the building owner was absconding and they were inquiring whether the tenants had valid licences to store inflammable goods. The fire services department has also started a separate inquiry to ascertain the cause of the fire. According to a Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) official, the building had as many as 14 tenants and their civic tax dues amounted to Rs 20 lakh.

“It is not possible for us to ascertain the cause of the fire before the probe is completed. All we can say now is that the flames were fed by inflammable material, like leather bags and liquor, stored in the godowns. We are trying to find out whether the godown-owners followed the fire-safety rules,” said fire services director Baren Sen.

Security guards, engaged by local traders, first noticed the flames at about 8.30 am, and raised an alarm. Local traders immediately contacted the fire brigade, but the first engine allegedly reached the spot around two hours later.

“We rang up the fire brigade thrice, but the fire engines reached the site after two hours. And two of the fire tenders that arrived at around 10.30 am, had little stock of water. The flames engulfed the entire building as the fire-fighters did not have water to put it out,’’ said trader Subhas Banerjee.

Fire-fighters said the congested area, the unauthorised structures and narrow entrance denied them access to the building, slowing down the operation.

Ratan Chowdhury, who stocked foreign liquor in one of the godowns, blamed the fire brigade for its failure to save the building and the goods. “The fire-fighters came to douse the flames without enough water or equipment. Local people tried to help, with bucketsful of water from adjacent buildings, but to no avail,’’ he lamented.

The fire services director dismissed the allegations, but admitted to a “lack of coordination” between the police and fire-brigade personnel, resulting in a delay over collection of water. “We collected water from Subodh Mullick Square, Lalbazar and Grand Hotel, but could not reach the spot as the fire tenders were caught in a jam. The police had failed to cordon off the area,” claimed Sen.

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