About 100 shanties were gutted and a fireman injured in a massive fire at Govandi's Gautam Nagar in the wee hours of Friday. The fire started out of an illegal footwear manufacturing unit, that held three domestic gas cylinders, and spread to the shanties. The illegal unit had no licenses and had been penalised by the ward office last year. Station officer Sampat Bamble suffered around 20% burns while firefighting and is being treated at National Burns Centre, Airoli. Another injured was let go after being treated at Rajawadi."
Parts of Govandi, Deonar are home to hundreds of informal manufacturing units producing footwear, clothes, bags, food products etc. These units generally operate through houses or shops and have local labour employed. One such unit belonging to Raj Alam Shaikh Wazid Hussain was located in Gautam Nagar. It used to operate out of a shop and had no mandatory licenses. It also stored gas cylinders, chemicals illegally.
Around 2.30 am on the intervening night of Thursday and Friday, locals heard explosions from the unit. A fire had occurred inside the unit (cause is unknown) and had led to the cylinders bursting. The whole unit was on fire and soon the fire spread to the neighboring residential areas. A neighboring gas cylinder from a house also burst. People rushed out of their houses and managed to remove their own LPG cylinders. The area was engulfed in smoke.
The fire brigade got a call around 3.50 am. Initially a grade I (small) fire, it was soon categorized as level IV (big) at 7.20 am. A total of 16 fire engines, 10 water tankers were pressed into service, including the two kept on stand-by duty at Deonar dumping ground. The fire brigade faced an uphill task maneuvering through narrow by-lanes in the dark of the night. Besides, the number of LPG cylinders in the area also posed a threat.
Bamble was rescuing people trapped inside one of the shanties when a cylinder burst near him. He got burnt on his face and hand, a total of 20% burns. He was rushed to Rajawadi hospital and was shifted to Airoli later. He is conscious and recovering.
The BMC had sent a notice to this illegal unit under section 394 of the MMC Act in October last year for not having a valid license. Prosecution was launched against it through its legal department but no notice was sent in the past six months. Also, no seizure action was undertaken, as allowed by the section.
"We had taken action against this unit last year. Today, we seized 18 other cylinders from other units. We have also arranged for accommodation for these families in a nearby BMC school and provided food," said Kiran Dighavkar, assistant municipal commissioner, M/East ward.
When asked why seizure action was not taken, he said that such an action is taken after a person defaults despite repeated warnings. When asked if there will be a drive against similar such units in the area now onwards, he replied in the negative.
Meanwhile, the fire brigade has said that an FIR will be filed against the dealer of the LPG cylinders.
Pramila Jaiswal, resident: "My daughter got married last year but she had entrusted me with her wedding jewelry. Besides, I had accumulated some cash and jewelry for my son's wedding later this year. Everything is gone. We could only salvage a bit of the gold. My husband is an asthma patient. He has suffered three attacks, one as recently as one week ago." Besides, Jaiswal lost Rs 20,000 in cash, sewing machine, TV, fridge, water cooler etc.
Sharmin Shaikh, resident: "I was in my house deep asleep when I heard a lot of noise. My husband asked me to rush out of the house. When I stepped out of the house, all I could see was smoke. My husband managed to pull out one cylinder. But everything is burnt, all our house papers are burnt. We don't have anything left apart from the clothes we are wearing."
Mohd Hanif Shaikh, resident: "Our children are going to suffer because of this. We have nowhere to go to. The unit was illegal. They stored chemicals, which I think caused the fire. There are so many such illegal units there. Why doesn't anybody take action? And will we be given any aide?"