Godown gutted near Howrah bridge
A large portion of a godown along the Hooghly and barely 100 metres from the Calcutta end of Howrah bridge was gutted in a blaze that started around 2.15am on Saturday and raged for more than 12 hours.
The godown on the first-floor of the building on the Strand Bank Road stored all kinds of inflammable items, ranging from tarpaulin sheets and nylon ropes to tent cloth and medicines, but did not appear to have any fire-fighting mechanism, a fire brigade official said.
Since morning, residents across large parts of north and central Calcutta could see tall columns of smoke rising above and surrounding the Howrah bridge.
People living in quarters and shanties close to the gutted warehouse said the first flames were seen rising from some shacks located along the circular railway tracks. The warehouse building stands between the railway tracks to its east and the river to its west.
“The fire started in the shanties around 2.15am. It first spread to the ropes and drums of chemicals kept along the boundary wall of the warehouse. The tall flames then leapt to the first floor of the warehouse ,” said Bablu Sardar, who lives in a shanty.
An official of the fire brigade said that 20 fire tenders were involved in the operation. Though the fire had been doused completely by 2.45pm, some fire tenders were still carrying out cooling operations till evening. However, fire brigade is yet to ascertain what led to the fire.
The Calcutta Port Trust is the owner of the building, but has leased out the space to companies that run the warehouses. Firefighters, who went inside the gutted warehouse, said it appeared to them that the godown didn’t have any fire-fighting arrangement.
“We didn’t notice any water hydrants in the building. The ceiling of the gutted godown didn’t have water sprinklers and fire alarms. There were some fire extinguishers, but we have to check if their shelf life had expired,” said a fire service official.
The port trust official said that they had asked all lessees to ensure proper fire safety arrangements in the godowns after a fire broke out in another port trust owned warehouse along the Hooghly in October 2017.
“The responsibility of making fire-safety arrangements lie with the lessee,” said the official. But a retired fire brigade official said that the onus for installing fire-safety measures falls on both the owner and occupier.
“The port trust must say what actions it took against the lessee if it didn’t take adequate fire-safety measures despite being told by the port authorities,” the retired official said.
A lessee — Inland World Logistics Private Limited — runs the four godowns on the first floor of the gutted warehouse. Two other lessees — Paavan Commercial Private Limited and Andaman public works department — run the two godowns on the ground floor. There are walls separating one godown space from another.
The fire gutted one of the four godowns run by Inland, JG2. The gutted godown stocked medicines, fabric, tarpaulin sheets, tent cloth, rubber tubes used in bicycles, paints and chemicals among others, said a firefighter.
Though there has been no casualties, Kamal Sarkar, a man who appeared to be in his 40s, fell ill while clearing goods from a godown. He was rushed to Calcutta Medicial College and Hospital.