Monday, 30th October 2017

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Blaze bares habitual lapses

State fire officer blames pandal short circuit on poorly insulated wires grazing bundles of hay

By Raj Kumar & Vijay Deo Jha in Ranchi
  • Published 15.10.18, 12:10 AM
  • Updated 15.10.18, 12:10 AM
  • 2 mins read
The gutted entrance of Pragati Prateek Club pandal in Kishoreganj, Ranchi, on Sunday. Organisers hope to reconstruct the gate before Sashthi opening. (Manob Chowdhary)

Sheer presence of mind saved the Pragati Prateek Club pandal from being reduced to cinders after a fire broke out at this Kishoreganj crowd-puller in the small hours of Panchami Sunday.

But, the fact that a short circuit triggered the blaze underscores how lightly the fire safety advisory is taken by organisers — despite the 2016 inferno at RR Sporting Club fresh in memory — and how conveniently the recurring gaffe never invites punitive action.

State fire officer R.K. Thakur said preliminary investigation indicated that the electrical lines at the club pandal were not properly insulated. “To make matters worse, some of these wires ran through bales of hay, which catches fire easily,” he said.

The blaze was reported within 12 hours of the district administration forming four safety audit teams for inspection of pandals. One team, headed by district executive magistrate Ravi Shankar, visited 10 nearby pandals on Saturday but Pragati Prateek Club wasn’t among them.

“We had no information about any such pandal until now. We will do a recce soon,” said the magistrate, but clammed up when asked if any action would be taken against the organisers who seemed to have violated fire safety norms.

Sunil Dubey, vice-president of the Puja committee, said pandal artists from Bengal’s Midnapore were busy giving final touches when they noticed a spark followed by flames and smoke around 2.15am.

“There was a possible short circuit involving the halogen light near the pandal entrance. The men at work raised an alarm and local residents rushed to help. A portion of the structure made of jute was nevertheless charred before sand buckets and water jets helped douse the fire,” Dubey said.

Rajesh Kumar Pandey, whose three-storey house is bang opposite the pandal, said they sprayed water from his rooftop. “But, the day was actually saved by some pandal artists who quickly demolished a portion of the burning entrance gate to prevent the fire from spreading to the main pandal structure,” he said.

Puja committee secretary Murari Agrawal said they estimated losses to the tune of Rs 3.5 lakh, a sizeable portion of the total budget of Rs 15 lakh. “We had planned formal inauguration on Mahasashthi evening and that schedule remains unchanged. Additional workers will be deployed to salvage the situation,” he said.

According to Agrawal, the Pragati Prateek pandal is inspired by a Buddha temple in Japan, but the exterior and interior are expected to flaunt Indian murals, mostly made of jute and husk.

“Fortunately, the fire did not singe the pedestal of the goddess. All the idols are safe. The entrance and some artwork have been gutted, but they can be replaced within the next 24 hours,” Agrawal said, adding that by the time a fire tender from Audrey House, 2km away, reached the spot in 45 minutes, the situation was under control.

Pragati Prateek organisers said their Puja was 52 years old and had never witnessed a fire mishap before.

Thakur rued that safety guidelines were being blatantly violated. “The fire advisory clearly restricts use of inflammable materials in pandal construction. Also, the advisory makes it mandatory for organisers to use licensed vendors for power wiring. But, many pandals are using materials such as cotton, coir, synthetic and hay without treating them in fire-retardant solutions,” he said.

Sukhdeonagar thana OC Nawal Kishore Singh said he had inspected the spot and found that a short circuit had indeed caused the fire. “We are probing the matter. An FIR is yet to be registered,” he added.

Thakur said all the four city fire stations — at Doranda, Piska More, Audrey House and Dhurwa — had been put on high alert. “We have 30 fire tenders manned by 45 members of staff. They are also part of the inspections now,” the fire officer added.