A fire on Saturday engulfed the parking area opposite Yelahanka Air Force Station in Karnataka where an international air show is being held, damaging around 300 cars, three days after a pilot was killed in a crash during rehearsals.
According to police, the fire started at one end of the lot and swiftly spread to a vast oval area where hundreds of cars were parked. There was no casualty. Being a weekend and as the Aero India show is open to the general public, a large number of civilians had come to the IAF base to watch the steel birds in action.
Panic struck around noon when word spread that a fire had broken out at the parking lot located in an empty space across the highway that separates it from the IAF station at Yelahanka, some 20km from Bangalore.
Thick black smoke billowed up into the clear blue sky on the hot day as firefighters struggled to bring the blaze under control.
There was no threat to aircraft lined up for the static and flying display as the parking lot is about 2km from the IAF base. Those parking their cars at the lot have to walk to the venue of the show.
Fire engines stationed at the base were the first to rush to the spot. A dozen fighters battled the blaze for about an hour. By then many cars had been gutted and many others damaged.
Once the fire was doused, the owners of the cars went about salvaging whatever they could. Some managed to locate their house keys that were intact. But most of them lost car documents and driving licences.
The defence ministry said a court of inquiry had been ordered to investigate the cause of the fire.
All available fire-fighting teams and Rapid Action Force and National Disaster Relief Force personnel were deployed immediately to remove civilians to safety and prevent the fire from spreading.
The air force deployed a helicopter to assist the firefighters by providing precise directions to tackle the blaze, stated the defence ministry that is one of the organisers of the biennial show.
City police commissioner T. Suneel Kumar told reporters there was no immediate clarity on what caused the fire. “The preliminary assessment indicates that the fire spread very quickly because of the wind and dry grass in the parking lot.”
The officer didn’t rule out the possibility of someone carelessly discarding a burning cigarette stub that could have sparked the fire, aided by the dry grass and shrubs.
The police and the Regional Transport Office opened special desks at the spot to document the fire damage and make it easy for car owners to claim insurance.
Home minister M.B. Patil expressed “pain” at the incident and said a thorough investigation would be conducted to find out the cause. “It really pained me to see such a tragedy. But I am glad there are no casualties,” he said.
On Wednesday, two IAF Hawk advanced jet trainers that were part of the Surya Kiran aerobatics team collided mid-air and crashed into a semi-occupied residential complex 2km from the air base, killing a pilot, Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi.
The Surya Kiran team’s flying display, which had been suspended temporarily after the crash, was in progress when the fire was detected on Saturday. Following a short break, the display resumed. Badminton player P.V. Sindhu was taken on a spin on the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft.
The organisers later said the air show would continue on the fifth and final day — Sunday.
Gutted cars seen at Bharati Nagar Gate's parking area after a massive fire on the 4th day of 12th edition of AERO India 2019, at Yelahanka Air Base in Bengaluru on Saturday, February 23, 2019. PTI