A building in Andheri (West) woke up to a major fire yesterday, when flames erupted from the penultimate floor of the commercial building. The fire broke out on the 21st floor of the Lotus Business Park, a commercial tower situated on the New Link Road. Fire brigade officials had to be brought in from all over Mumbai and Thane, and the situation was controlled only in the evening. However, one fireman died in the operation.
Help from above: A Coast Guard chopper had to be called in after ten firemen were stuck on the terrace. (Left) Fireman Nitin Ivalekar was charred to death while trying to douse the fire.
According to eyewitnesses, the fire broke out around 9.15 am when people saw flames coming out from the 21st floor — the office premises owned by Century Communications, which owns Pixion, a post-production film and animation studio in the same building. Fire brigade officials said the control room received a call around 9.45 am, after which fire engines and water tankers were dispatched to the spot instantly.
Julio Mascarenhas, an employee working in one of the offices on the tenth floor of the building, said, “Every day, I come to office by 9 am. But today I reached at around 9.10 am. At around 9.15 am, when I was reading my prayers, I heard people shouting that a fire had broken out. I too immediately rushed out of the building and we vacated the building immediately.” Luckily, since it was still before normal office hours, many hadn’t yet reached their workplaces.
No sooner had news of the fire spread, than a thousand-odd people gathered near the spot, clicking pictures and taking videos. More than 100 traffic police and other officials struggled to control the crowd. At around 10 am, when mid-day reached the spot, we saw that the fire was spreading on floors above and below the 21st. To make the situation worse, the wind fanned the flames further. Fighters were finding it tough to douse the flames due to this, as smoke from inside came straight onto their faces.
Final goodbye: Fire brigade officials prepare for the funeral of Nitin Ivalekar (inset), who perished during operations. Pic/Bipin Kokate
They soon realised that the fire, which earlier appeared to be minor, was beyond their scope. Within two hours, it was declared a ‘brigade call’ —meaning resources from all fire stations across Mumbai and surrounding suburbs have to be brought in with equipment and manpower. “All the fire stations from Mumbai were asked to send water tankers, fire engines and special equipment used for firefighting,” said a fire brigade official. A 68-metre high snorkel was brought in from Byculla fire station to reach the burning top floors. Officials also broke the glass panes of the building to avoid suffocation. Yet, some firemen couldn’t breathe properly.
By 1.30 pm, firefighters thought they had successfully extinguished the flames. Ten firemen had reached the terrace to begin the cooling process. But, due to a gust of wind, the flames spread once again on the floor below, causing them to get stuck. In order to rescue them, the Navy and Coast Guard had to be called in. At around 3 pm, a Coast Guard chopper arrived on the spot and airlifted one official out of the burning building. By this time, the flames had died down yet again and the other nine climbed down the stairs inside. A Navy chopper hovered above the tower to keep a tab on the operations.
Till 6 pm, 22 fire engines, 12 water tankers, 5 fire brigade ambulances and three fire brigade special appliances had reached the spot to douse the fire.
More than 150 firefighters from Mumbai and Thane had joined the operation. A total of 33 fire brigade officials had entered the building — 13 were fire officers and 20 were firemen. These were stuck on the 21st and 22nd floors and one of them — Nitin Ivalekar — had been charred to death. Many were injured due to the broken glass panes.
A fireman who was on the 18th floor said, “As there was no ventilation inside the building —which had a glass facade — it was becoming difficult to do my job. Not only was the temperature inside the building high, but the smoke also was causing us suffocation. At one time, I thought that I wouldn’t come out of the building alive .”
The flames were brought under control only by 6.30 pm and fire officials explained that the cooling process would take one to two days. The 22-storey building has more than 25 offices of varying sizes, ranging from 2,500 square feet to 15,000 square feet.
Fire on second floor averted
Thanks to the alertness and swift thinking of firemen, the second floor of the building avoided catching fire. During operations, glass and other flaming material were falling from above. One of the burning objects fell onto the roof of a restaurant on the second floor, and the cloth roof caught fire, which was immediately doused.
Fire Brigade says
Deputy Chief Fire Officer S H Nesarikar explained, “It was a very difficult operation and hence it had to be converted into a brigade call. Unfortunately, one fireman died. The exact reason for the fire is yet to be ascertained and investigations are on. The fire has been brought under control and cooling operations are in progress.”
A senior fire brigade official, requesting anonymity, said, “It was one of the toughest firefighting operations we did in recent times, because the wind was posing a big challenge to us. Every time we thought that the flames were under control, the wind would fan them again. We were lucky there were not many people inside the building or else it would have been a very big disaster.” He added that this was one of the rare occasions when help from the Coast Guard and Navy was taken.
22: The number of fire engines had rushed to the spot to extinguish the fire