Massive fire guts 50 per cent of heritage Metro House in South Mumbai

It began on the first floor of the three-storey structure and spread to another wing, housing Cafe Mondegar. Firefighters, aided by Navy personnel, worked on dousing the flames for 5 hours

A massive fire broke out in the century-old three-storey Metro House near Regal Cinema in Colaba, a residential and commercial locality, around 4.30 pm yesterday, gutting 50% of the structure.

Firefighters douse the blaze in the 100-year-old Metro House in Colaba yesterday with the help of 16 fire tenders and 12 water tankers
Firefighters douse the blaze in the 100-year-old Metro House in Colaba yesterday with the help of 16 fire tenders and 12 water tankers

Firefighters, with the help of 16 fire engines and 12 water tankers, worked on dousing the flames till 9.15 pm. Plumes of pitch black smoke could be sighted from afar for hours. No injuries were reported, said a BMC official. A major part of the building’s stairway collapsed.

The Taj Mahal hotel is in the background. Pics/Prabhanjan Dhanu
The Taj Mahal hotel is in the background. Pics/Prabhanjan Dhanu

Although the cause of the blaze is yet to be ascertained, sources said a short in the power circuit is suspected to have led to it.

The building houses Venus Lodge on the first floor, as well as Café Mondegar and McDonalds in separate wings. Locals said they heard an explosion at the lodge, diagonally opposite Café Mondegar, following which a fire broke out. Neither of the wings’ ground floors were affected.

No match for the blaze
Although fire tenders were brought in within 15 minutes, the blaze, fanned by winds quickly spread to the third floor, the terrace and the back as well as east — to the third floor of the neighbouring wing. Newly-laid tar on the terrace helped the fire spread. McDonalds on the first floor as well as the second floor of the eastern wing escaped the fury.

When the firefighters realised that their engines were no match for the monstrous blaze, skylift equipment were called in. This slowdown, however, ate into 15 minutes of the rescue operations. The skylift trucks, too, were useless as the water pressure from hydrants wasn’t high enough to douse the flames. It was at this time that the fire spread to the next wing. The branches of two trees had to be cut down to open up access for fire hoses.

While the operations were underway, BMC officials asked the control room for more water. Sources said they had to wait for 15-20 minutes for more water tankers, which were refilled at Azad Maidan and Worli.

Around 6.30 pm, the Navy’s help in dousing the fire was sought. Sources in the Navy said they arranged for water from their dockyard through four vehicles and also sent personnel.

Chief Fire Officer P Rahangdale said initially, there were “technical problems” with firefighting, but they were resolved. “Also, water tankers got stuck in traffic, which delayed the operations.”

During the firefighting operations, traffic was diverted and the entry of vehicles ahead of Regal Cinema signal was barred. People from all nearby buildings were evacuated.

— Inputs by Shashank Rao, Neha Tripathi, Varun Singh, Rupsa Chakraborty and Shikha Vatsala

Was the structure dilapidated?
As the fire spread, so did the blame game. MP Arvind Sawant said he had raised the issue of redeveloping this “old building”. “At least R50,000 crore is required for its redevelopment. Such heritage buildings’ façade looks good, but are crumbling on the inside.”

Asked if any notice for redevelopment was issued to building, BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta said, “I will have to check the files. We are preparing a report on the fire.”

A senior BMC official, however, said the building does not fall under the civic body’s jurisdiction since it is a cessed building. Cessed buildings are those that pay a cess) to the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) for their maintenance and upkeep.

A senior MHADA official admitted that the building is cessed and is under the purview of the repair and redevelopment board. “Our two officers were at the spot since afternoon.”

Vren Asar, legal counsellor of the owner of the building, Rafique Mallik, ruled out sabotage, but said the structure had been served an eviction notice from the Mumbai Port Trust.

Another senior BMC official said a structural audit of other buildings in the vicinity will be undertaken soon.

Sources said hawkers would be kept out of the area for a few days. Late yesterday, many hawkers returned to collect their wares.

Brace for water shortage
The BMC supplies water to A-ward, under which Metro House falls, from 3.30 pm-6.30 pm every day. When firefighters exhausted this supply through the water hydrant, the BMC diverted water from wards B, C and D.

Owing to this diversion, these wards could face a water shortage today.

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