A portion of the roof of a four-storey building at the crossing of Asutosh Mukherjee Road and Bishop Lefroy Road caved in after a fire broke out at a fashion designing institute on the top floor on Friday morning.
The fire was spotted at 60A Chowringhee Road, the mixed use property behind Chowringhee Banquets, around 9am and the roof collapsed around an hour later. Twelve fire engines took around four hours to douse the blaze.
No one was injured even though shifts had started in some offices on lower floors of the building.
“The seat of the fire, Glamour School of Fashion, has been gutted. The flames, however, did not spread to the other floors. The main door of a residential apartment next to the fashion institute was partially damaged,” an official in the fire department said.
Officials of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and the fire services department said the building, which houses two educational institutes, a few offices and two residential apartments, came up in the early years of the last century.
“The beams supporting the ceiling might have weakened and collapsed after being damaged by fire,” a CMC official said.
“Going by the age of the building, we suspect the ceiling was supported by kori and borga (wooden beams). The beams might also be of steel, in which case we need to ascertain whether they were exposed or embedded in the roof. Knowledge of the positioning of the beams will give us an idea of how strong the ceiling was.”
The official said he and his colleagues had not yet been able to take a look at the collapsed ceiling. “The reason for the fire would probably become clear on Saturday after the debris is removed and we are able to access the site,” he said.
Dipak Mukherjee, managing director of Mookherjee Estates Pvt Ltd, a realty company that owns the building, said the weight of three water tanks of 12,000-litre capacity each might have contributed to the collapse.
He admitted to Metro that apart from fire alarms, no fire-fighting equipment was installed in the building.
The fire and emergency services department will send a notice to the owner of the building. “We will ask the owner what measures he had put in place in terms of fire-fighting preparedness,” said Jag Mohan, the director general of the department.
Firefighters spray water inside the Chowringhee building. Picture by Rith Basu
The firefighters had initially faced difficulty controlling the situation because of leaping flames and the heat. They accessed the building’s terrace from a ladder placed on the roof of an adjacent building
“Even after the flames were controlled, there was a lot of smoke. Our men had to wear breathing apparatuses to enter the institute,” an official said.
Police said they were waiting for a complaint from the fire services department, following which they might start a case of negligence.
Mayor Firhad Hakim, who visited the spot, said: “The fire most probably started at an AC machine. Furniture and false ceiling (at the fashion institute) helped spread the fire. Civic engineers will inspect the affected portions on Saturday to ascertain their structural stability.”
Many witnesses said the fire engines arrived long after being alerted. The watchman at a commercial-cum-residential building on Bishop Lefroy Road said the first batch of fire tenders arrived around 9.30am, at least 30 minutes after the fire broke out.
Fire services director general Jag Mohan said his department learnt about the fire around 9.20am and fire tenders reached the spot in a short while.
The first lot of five tenders were sent from the fire department headquarters on Free School Street and the rest were despatched from other fire service stations.
Fire minister Sujit Bose, who visited the spot, said fire engines reached the spot at the earliest. “All our teams were deployed within minutes of our control room receiving the distress call. The fire engines drove through the morning traffic as fast as they could. The fire broke out during the rush hour and the tenders had to negotiate quite a bit of traffic,” the minister said.
The fire broke out a day after Bagree Market in Burrabazar, which burnt for over 80 hours in September last year, reopened. Despite the long exposure to heat and water, Bagree did not suffer any cave-in. The market building, however, is much younger than the one where the fire broke out on Friday, having come up in 1942. Sources said the ceilings at Bagree market were supported by beams made of Belgian steel.