Mumbai: Entire Juhu Galli is a disaster waiting to happen

Shaken by Thursday's fire, residents and shopkeepers fear disaster might strike again as most local buildings are fire traps

It was the very house they had lived in for 40 years that killed nine members of the Khan family in the tragic fire on Thursday, but Moazzam Khan still wants to live there. On the other hand, the rest of the neighbourhood at Juhu Galli is shaken to the core and can't help fearing that disaster might strike again.

Mohammad Gunjar Alam, manager of the Gulmohar restaurant points to the electrical fixtures there as he discusses precautions local shopkeepers are taking after Thursday's fire. Pics/Prabhanjan Dhanu
Mohammad Gunjar Alam, manager of the Gulmohar restaurant points to the electrical fixtures there as he discusses precautions local shopkeepers are taking after Thursday's fire. Pics/Prabhanjan Dhanu

Fire traps all around
Most of the buildings in this Andheri neighbourhood are perfect firetraps, just like the Khan residence. Thursday's fire has scared residents and shopkeepers into looking for solutions to prevent a similar catastrophe.

Although the legal height limit for construction is 14 feet here, most buildings at Juhu Galli are ground+2 structures, with either shops or restaurants on the ground floor and the family quarters upstairs. All these buildings have just one entrance — through the shop front. Staircases in the shops lead up to the floors above.

The Khan family's home and their medical store on the ground floor was gutted in Thursday's blaze
The Khan family's home and their medical store on the ground floor was gutted in Thursday's blaze

In case of a fire at night, when the shop shutters are down, residents have no way out. This is exactly what had happened at the Khan residence. Only three members of the family survived that blaze by jumping out the first-floor window. Eyewitnesses said the rest of the family could still have been saved if there was a staircase outside the building.

Fire chief says
"These are all firetraps. In 80% of houses in the slums, access is a big problem. Plus, the houses are stocked with packaging material, electrical appliances, wooden furniture that fuel the fire. In commercial structures like pharmacies, deodorants are the biggest culprits," said Chief Fire Officer (CFO) PS Rahangdale.

mid-day's reportage on the tragic blaze
mid-day's reportage on the tragic blaze

At the Khan residence, the fire is thought to have started due to a short circuit in the pharmacy downstairs. It turned into an inferno after medicine and deodorant bottles exploded. Several buildings also house restaurants that not only stack up LPG cylinders without licences, but also have shoddy electric wiring.

Add to this the open charcoal grills and frying woks used for cooking, and it's a recipe for disaster. Mohammed Harish, the manager of one such restaurant, claimed to have all the necessary licences. Asked about fire precautions, he said the restaurant is perfectly safe.

'Want to go back'

A day after nine of his family members died in a blaze that gutted his house of over four decades, Moazzam Khan was heartbroken but determined to go back and live there again. He not only lost his wife, but also one of his sons and both his daughters-in-law (one of them was pregnant), along with all his grandchildren.

Heartbroken: Moazzam Khan
Heartbroken: Moazzam Khan

The family has three shops in all, two of which are in the same lane. Besides, the family has been allotted one SRA flat in the same neighbourhood, but Moazzam has no intention of moving there. "We did not sleep the entire night. In the morning, relatives made me eat a little as part of Sehri. I will continue to hold Roza during Ramzan.

I don't want to go to the SRA flat. We have lot of emotional values attached to the house that was damaged in the fire. We have been living there for over four decades. I want to repair the damaged house and start living there again," he said, adding that the repairs would cost nearly Rs 15 lakh.

Shopkeepers concerned
Moinuddin Owner of a medical store
MoinuddinAlthough my shop isn't so old, I will install a fire extinguisher here. We don't have any loose wiring or domestic gas cylinders. But the medicines naturally have ethyl alcohol that is combustible. Besides, we have to keep a fridge in the pharmacy as per FDA rules. So it is better I buy an extinguisher.

Manoj Singh Owner of Tashkent pharmacy
Manoj SinghWe neither have an illegal power connection nor any gas cylinders stored. The shop has been renovated recently and all the wires are concealed.

Mohammed Gunjar Alam Manager of Gulmohur restaurant
We will see what needs to be done. But who knows what started the fire? Was it a short circuit? I don't know. The owner will have to decide what to do.

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