Russia hostel fire caused by short circuit from room heater

The family was told that the fire may have started due to a short circuit next door, where a mattress caught fire after a room heater was kept on it

“Please send status about Smolensk State Medical academy fire incident urgently. How are you, are you safe?” reads the last message the Kallur family sent at 1 pm on Sunday to their daughter Pooja after they learnt of the fire at her hostel in Russia. Officials revealed the fire had likely started due to a short circuit from a room heater.

Pooja Kallur’s father, Siddappa. Pic/Satyabrata TripathyPooja Kallur’s father, Siddappa. Pic/Satyabrata Tripathy

Just three hours before she died in the blaze, the 22-year-old had chatted with her family but no one could have suspected it would be the last conversation they would ever have with her. Her brother had gone to drop a nephew off at Mumbai airport, where he was catching a flight to a course in Germany. “We were in conversation with Pooja on the phone, as well as the family group chat, till 4:30 am. She told our nephew to take a proper first aid box and food materials with him, and also advised him maintain good relations with his classmates so he doesn’t face problems in Germany,” said her brother, Mayur, who is older by a year.

It was on his way back to the family residence at Seawoods in Navi Mumbai that his father informed him about the fire. The family themselves had learnt about the incident because of one of Pooja’s classmates in Russia. The classmate’s father – a Chembur resident – called the Kallurs and told them a few students were still stuck in the fire. But the Kallur family had no ay of finding out whether their daughter was one of those trapped inside.

“After hearing the news we continuously called Pooja, but she did respond. We suspected something was wrong; when we contacted her classmates, they confirmed the fire but were not ready to share Pooja’s status,” said her father, Siddappa (60), a retired Air India engineer.

Mayur added, “We were not getting proper information from her classmates. My father then contacted the dean and vice-chancellor, Alok Aaron, who said only that she was injured.”

Not suspecting anything worse, the family was just sitting down to lunch around 2.30 pm when Aaraon called the family and delivered the blow. “He confirmed that our daughter Pooja is no more and that her roommate Karishma had died too. He said their mortal remain would be sent to Mumbai airport in four days,” recalled Mayur.

The family got the rest of the information from the embassy officials. They said the fire had likely started due to a short circuit from a room heater. “It’s very cold in Russia, so the students were using heaters. In the room adjacent to Pooja’s, the students kept the heater on the bed and the mattress caught fire. Her classmates finally told us she died due to suffocation from the smoke,” said Mayur, adding they had still demanded to see the autopsy report and the cause and time of death. It will take a fortnight for the documents to be handed over to them.

Pooja’s dream
It was Pooja’s dream to study medicine abroad, and at the end of this course, she also wanted to go to the US to specialise in surgery. Pooja was the youngest — and by consequence, also the dearest — among nine kids (her brother was born a year before her, and her sisters are older). Her family agreed to fulfil her wishes and her father took out a loan to fund her studies in Russia.

“We never let her face any difficulty in studies. Whatever she asked for, we would provide. I always encouraged her, thinking she would become a doctor,” said an emotional Siddappa.

Girls return home today
The Indian Embassy in Moscow confirmed that the bodies of both girls will reach Mumbai airport around 1.30 pm today. After finishing the formalities, Pooja’s body will be sent to her residence in Navi Mumbai and her family is likely to receive the body around 4 pm. Karishma’s body will have to be taken to Pune.

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