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Fire trucks faced traffic jam at Mantralaya gate

With the death toll of the Mantralaya blaze rising to five, questions are being raised about why the fire could not be contained to the fourth floor, where it broke out on Thursday afternoon. While many theories have been put forward to explain the extensive damage caused to the upper floors, eyewitness reports indicate that it was not the alleged tardiness of the fire brigade, but the fleet of cars parked in the Mantralaya compound that set back rescue operations.


Traffic jam: Workers try to move a car that was blocking the way for the fire brigade. Pic/Shadab Khan

Though the fire brigade arrived promptly, its progress towards the towering inferno was hampered by the vehicles in the compound. They also pointed out that the chauffeurs had all fled the scene, abandoning their cars. This forced fire fighters to waste time arranging for the vehicles to be towed out. This in turn delayed rescue operations by nearly an hour. As the vehicles were tugged and pulled, the fire engulfed the fifth and sixth floors.


Car-nama: Cars parked haphazardly inside the Mantralaya compound blocked the fire brigade’s access to the burning building. As they waited for towing vans to remove the cars, the fire spread to the fifth and sixth floors of the building. Some of the cars had to be manually pushed out, adding to the hour-long delay.¬†Illustration/Amit Bandre

A fire brigade officer said, “The front gate was cleared as soon as possible, but vehicles inside the building obstructed the path of the fire engines. Even the Aarsa gate, where the fire needed earliest attention, was out of bounds because of the vehicles parked inside the compound. Finally, the vehicles were removed with the help of towing vans. Thus relief reached the gate a bit late.” According to a senior officer, the call requesting for fire fighting services was made after 2.35 pm, and the removal of the vehicles continued till at least 3.40 pm.

Drivers fled
BJP leader Vinod Tawde, leader of Opposition at the Legislative Council, claimed that he had reached the spot immediately after the fire broke out, and noticed that the fire engines had a hard time finding space in the compound. “Right after the building caught fire, everyone ran for their life, including the chauffeurs. They left the vehicles unattended, which obstructed the fire trucks. Finally, towing vans had to be called in remove the parked cars,” he said.

Tawde claimed that the towing process took over an hour. “I was present there, and it took more than an hour for the vehicles to be removed. This shows lack of planning on our part,” he accepted. Another minister said on condition of anonymity, “This particular incident has woken us up to the need of imposing a measure of discipline on the parking arrangements in the building’s compound.”

DCP Zone II Nisar Tamboli, however, insisted that not much of a problem had been encountered during the relief work. He also denied having received any confirmation on the use of towing vans. Neither cops nor officials of the fire brigade agreed to comment on the problems posed by the messy parking. An IAS officer revealed that over 100 vehicles can be accommodated in the building’s premises.

Timeline
02:46 pm

The fire started

03:40pm
Time when the parked cars were removed 

Mantralaya officials were slow in calling fire brigade

It has now been revealed that Mantralaya officials wasted precious time by not calling the fire brigade when they first noticed the fire, and instead relied on their own rudimentary firefighting skills to douse the flames.>

According to a senior cabinet member, officials from the Urban Development department dialled the PWD chowkie for help when they spotted the fire at the server room in the fourth floor. The chowkie should be manned by a junior electrical engineer and his staffers. However, the phone kept ringing and nobody responded, an official told CM Prithviraj Chavan and his cabinet colleagues. With each passing minute, the fire spread, and soon thick black smoke started bellowing from the room.

Sensing something amiss, Babanrao Pachpute, the minister of tribal development who occupies the adjacent chamber, came out and enquired about the incident.

At the same time, the PWD workers arrived at the scene and tried to control the fire with the fire-fighting equipment present nearby. Pachpute too tried to help douse the flames. The gas in the fire equipment was insufficient to control the fire.

It was then that the decision to rope in the fire department was made. A staffer from Pachpute’s office made the call, but precious time had already been lost.

— Ravikiran Deshmukh

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