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2 killed in Mantralaya fire, 16 injured

Two people have died in the major fire that has engulfed the Maharashtra Mantralaya or secretariat here Thursday. 

Fire brigade officials said two bodies were recovered from the sixth floor of the seven-storey 'Mantralaya'. While one body was found in the committee room of the Deputy CM Ajit Pawar's office, another was found in the nearby waiting hall.

Both the deceased hailed from Baramati. While Umesh Poteykar was former chief of the Baramati Bank, Mahesh Gugale was a businessman. Both had gone to meet Pawar. 

Sixteen others were injured in the incident of which one is said to be critical. Two of the Maharashtra CM's security guards -- Tukaram More and Mohan More -- are reportedly missing.  

Chief fire officer Suhas Joshi has said that while the fire has been brought under control, cooling operations were underway and would continue for the next 48 hours. 

Meanwhile, in a late development, a minor blast occurred in the Mantralaya canteen, but the flames were brought under control.

Maharashtra Chief Secretary J.K. Banthia said the dozens who had been trapped in the seven-floor building had been taken out. "There are no more people inside," he told the media.

But the press conference also attended by some ministers turned stormy after journalists and a section of secretariat employees demanded to know how such an inferno could spread so fast in a high security complex.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan, whose office was gutted, looked sombre as he entered the complex with the building still on fire in the evening. He avoided journalists.

Mantralya fire

Fire fighters try to bring the blaze at Mantralaya under control. Pic/Shadab Khan

Close to two hours after it was first noticed near the cabin of Tribal Welfare Minister Babanrao Pachpute on the fourth floor, the fire continued to rage till late in the afternoon even as fire fighters battled the leaping flames.

There was no immediate report of any casualty but several people were suspected trapped on the upper floors and terrace, prompting authorities to press into service contingents of the elite commandos of Force One and city police's Quick Response Teams. Two teams from the naval dockyard were also rushed.

Panic gripped the sprawling building, the seat of state administration, after the fire, first noticed around 2.45 pm, spread swiftly to fifth, sixth and seventh floors. Towering plumes of blinding smoke soon engulfed the building making it difficult for the fire brigade to evacuate the stranded.  

According to sources, nearly 5,000 people vacated the building within 20 minutes of the fire breaking out. Fire brigade personnel with huge hydraulic ladders were seen bringing down those trapped. Choking in thick black smoke, several people were seen standing precariously on the parapet and balconies, waiting to be rescued. 

Many could be seen rappelling down the ropes and drain pipes in a desperate attempt to escape. 

According to sources, the Urban Development Department, which is embroiled in a controversy over the Adarsh scam, and departments of Home, Revenue and Industries were the worst affected by the fire. 

 

Pachpute said he heard a blast soon after the blaze started. Though his staff used fire extinguishers to put out the flames, it spread rapidly. "I ran down and pulled out my cabinet colleague Jayant Patil from his third floor cabin," Pachpute said.
 
Animal Husbandry Minister Madhukar Chavan said he heard several blasts in the air-conditioners at he attempted to escape. Pachpute said the fire brigade started its work around 3.05 pm, nearly 20 minutes after the blaze started. Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik, who arrived at the spot, said the rear portion of the building had suffered the maximum damage but did not confirm if anyone was injured. Efforts to douse the flames were hampered by winds, he said.
 
To persistent questions if Adarsh files had been destroyed in the fire, he said, "Our primary concern is to sort out the situation, to rescue people." Chief Minister Chavan and Deputy CM Ajit Pawar were superivising efforts to quell the fire and rescue the trapped. 

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