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Blaze at Acropolis mall: What worked and what did not

Fire minister Sujit Bose promised the allegations would be probed

Subhajoy Roy, Samarpita Banerjee Calcutta Published 15.06.24, 06:15 AM
Firefighting team at the spot after a fire broke out in a shopping mall, in Kolkata, Friday, June 14, 2024.

Firefighting team at the spot after a fire broke out in a shopping mall, in Kolkata, Friday, June 14, 2024. PTI

The stairs of the fire exit at Acropolis Mall had been reduced to half because of waste dumped there and the water sprinklers in that part of the mall where the fire broke out did not work, conversations with people inside and firemen suggested.

The mall has 115 stores and 99 offices.


Metro spoke with employees of several offices, fire officers, disaster management experts and the mall authorities to find out what worked and what did not.

What did not work

Blocked staircase

Waste generated by renovation work was stacked in the stairway, making it difficult for evacuees to walk out of the building, many who made the perilous trek said later.

The elevators were shut immediately after the fire was reported, according to the protocol.

In any fire emergency, the norm is to take the stairs to escape and they should always be without any obstructions, said fire officers.

“One of the stairways had materials stacked there, which reduced the width. This created chaos and people stumbled upon each other as everyone was trying to come out as quickly as they could,” said Rahul Gupta, who works in the building.

The other stairway had to be closed because of its proximity to the source of the fire.

An official at Acropolis Mall said that because of renovation work, “some of the stairs had materials kept there, but not all”.

“There was still enough space for people to come out,” said the official.

Evacuees’ accounts do not corroborate that.

Water sprinklers

A fire officer said the sprinklers around the source of the fire did not work. “It needs to be investigated whether the malfunctioning sprinklers were a local problem, around the source of the fire, or whether the sprinklers elsewhere, too, did not work,” the officer said.

Many who were inside when the fire broke out said they did not see water gushing out from sprinklers after the alarm buzzed.

The Acropolis official denied that the sprinklers malfunctioned. “None from the fire brigade has told us that the sprinklers did not work,” the official said.

Mechanical ventilation

The mall has fans that blow out the air inside and bring in fresh air from outside.
The fans work even when there is no fire.

Such a system should help let out the trapped smoke.

A fire brigade officer said: “The mechanical ventilation was in place at the mall but it did not work.”

Firefighters had to break windows and make holes in the mall’s glass facade to let out the trapped smoke.

A mall official said he was unaware if the system did not work. “We have the system and we check it regularly. There is no reason why it should not work,” he said.

What worked

Fire alarm, PA system

The alarm rang as the fire broke out. It is another matter that many did not take it seriously.

People inside the mall were asked through the public address system to evacuate.

“The alarm went off but almost no one reacted initially. Many thought a fire drill was underway,” said Ramendra Nath Mukherjee, who works with an advertising agency at Acropolis.

Subhasish Bhattacharya, the mall’s fire and safety officer, said they had a 5.5 lakh-litre water reservoir filled to capacity. “We started dousing the fire immediately after it started using our hydrants. But the fire was big. We immediately alerted the fire brigade,” he said.

Krishna Jha, senior operations manager, Acropolis Mall, said: “We at Acropolis Mall are a responsible corporate house. We have been running the mall successfully for the last nine years and no such untoward incident happened before this. We will take adequate measures to find out what exactly happened and conduct an internal investigation.”

Fire minister Sujit Bose promised the allegations would be probed.

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