The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Trade-hub tinder box explodes in flames

Cooch Behar, Nov. 25: A fire ravaged the district’s largest and oldest market this morning.

Bhabaniganj Bazar was reduced to ashes but there was no casualty. The blaze that began around 11 am claimed 500 shops and refused to be reined in till 6 in the evening when Border Security Force jawans threw a cordon around it to keep away looters.

A stove that burst into flames in an eatery inside the complex apparently triggered the fire. Attempts by some shopkeepers to douse the flames that licked Nabo Dey’s stall failed. In no time, they spread to the clothes shop next door and fed on the congestion in the market.

Chairman of the local municipality Biren Kundu blamed the traders for the blaze. “I’d been anticipating such an incident for some time. Though we had begun building a new market complex, the shop owners were against shifting. They did not want to make way for the new complex,” the Congress leader said.

Rajendra Kumar Baid, a businessman, said: “The market had no means to fight fire, let alone a blaze like this. There was no water and the narrow lanes, where it was difficult to do business, were inaccessible to the fire engines.”

By the end of the day, the huge market that also used to be the hub of wholesalers was no more. Few shop owners managed to salvage stocks.

A miniature version of Calcutta’s Burrabazar, the market sold everything from fast-moving consumer goods to computers, spices, plastics and clothes, utensils, grocery and jewellery.

Fire-fighters who reached almost immediately found it difficult to pump water from the neighbouring tank as it was surrounded by illegal shops.

Fire brigade officer-in-charge Tarak Saha said the first half-an-hour was wasted in the struggle to link the pipes to a water source. The fire that broke out in the tin- and wood-roof single-storey shops soon spread to the higher blocks, which also housed families. “The situation went out of hand when several cooking gas cylinders burst in the heat,” Saha said.

“This is probably the largest fire ever in the district. We had to use all the fire tenders available in the subdivision and in Raiganj. The army and the BSF were called in,” said district magistrate Chandan Sinha.

“The municipality is building a new market along the large tank and that is why the firemen did not get enough water,” alleged an angry trader, Montu Saha.

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