|Firefighters use a water jet on a heap of scrap at the godown at Kutchery in Ranchi on Wednesday and (above) three fire tenders wait in front of Ganga Ashram. (Prashant Mitra)
A big fire broke out at a scrap godown — allegedly a mishap magnet — in the heart of Ranchi on Wednesday afternoon, threatening over a dozen families and 50-odd business establishments, including a busy shopping complex and a five-storey hotel.
Three fire tenders fought the blaze for more than an hour to bring it under control. Fire officers are yet to ascertain what triggered the mishap.
Eyewitnesses said they noticed dense smoke billowing out of the backyard of the godown, which lies a stone’s throw from the district collectorate and bang opposite Jaipal Singh Stadium in Kutchery, around 3.30pm.
“Moments later, there were columns of flame leaping up to nine feet. We immediately alerted the fire office,” said Shambu Prasad, a gift shop owner at Panchwati Plaza, the shopping complex nearby.
The three fire tenders from Audrey House were pressed into service without delay, saving lives and property.
Local residents alleged that the godown, with tonnes of metal and plastic in its backyard, ignored fire safety norms and also lacked a secure boundary, which left independent quarters, Hotel Ganga Ashram and Panchwati Plaza vulnerable.
“This is the fifth fire mishap in a year. The owner of the godown neither raises boundary walls, nor clears the scrap. We have written to district administration on the matter, but nothing has happened so far,” said Manish Kumar, a local resident, who claimed his entire house was engulfed in smoke when the fire broke out.
A team from Kotwali police station too expressed surprise over the presence of a huge scrap yard at such a prime location. “From outside, the godown looks small. I never knew it was so big on the inside and full of scrap perhaps dumped for decades. I wonder how the owner got permission to function from here. It is illegal I believe,” said a policeman, not willing to be named.
Audrey House fire station in-charge R.K. Thakur said capital residents were lucky that the blaze had not broken out at night.
“There could have been casualties. First, scrap yards often contain inflammable material. Second, the weather is windy and the fire would have spread wildly even before it was detected. We are fortunate it was daytime,” he said.
Owner of the godown Jamal, meanwhile, denied all allegations and harped on minority discrimination. “I am the only one here from my community. So, people trouble me. They often throw burning matchsticks and cigarette butts on my premises only to blame me for a mishap later. All this is sabotage, a ploy to evict me from here,” he claimed.
Public relations officer of Ranchi Municipal Corporation (RMC) Naresh Sinha claimed that there were no “clear-cut rules” regarding setting up of scrap business. However, a godown owner should seek licence from the RMC and clearance from fire department.
“Our preliminary probe suggests that the dealer did not have a licence. We will be thoroughly examine the case tomorrow (Thursday) and take appropriate action,” he added.
Fire officials too confirmed that the dealer did not have the necessary clearance.
Should the scrap godown be allowed to operate?