Two elderly women died tragic and lonely deaths on the stairs of a high-rise in Rajawadi, Ghatkopar, as they tried to make their way up to the 11-storey building’s terrace in order to escape the smoke caused by a short-circuit in the electric meter cabin. Seven other residents of the building suffered from smoke inhalation, but survived the incident, which occurred in the early hours yesterday.
The fire did not spread beyond the meter room on the ground floor of Savani Apartments, as fire officials who immediately rushed to the spot doused it in 10 minutes. Smoke emitting from the meter room engulfed all the floors of the 11-storey. The deceased have been identified as Nirmala Ajmera (79) and Shantaben Damani (82).
Their bodies were sent for post mortem to Rajawadi hospital, where the seven other victims were also treated for chest congestion and eye irritation. Six of them were later shifted to Kurla’s Kohinoor Hospital, where they are now undergoing treatment. Their condition is stable. Fire official Prashant Parulekar from Chembur fire brigade said, “We reached the spot in 10 minutes and controlled the fire. The gangway was covered with smoke and we asked all the residents to rush towards the terrace or ventilate their flats.”
During rescue operations, the fire brigade used snorkels and aerial ladder platforms (ALP) to lift 20 people stranded on the terrace. Shortly after the residents were woken up by calls from frantic neighbours, many of them rushed outside their flats to rush towards the terrace. Ravi Lalit Ajmera (42) a businessman who lives on the sixth floor of the building, lost his 79-year-old mother Nirmala to the mishap. “His wife and two children were in Pune when the incident took place. A neighbour called them up at 1 pm and told Ravi and his mother to immediately vacate the flat,” said Rupal Kora, his sister-in-law.
“They left the flat together and started going downstairs to escape the smoke, but were told to head to the terrace once they reached the fifth floor. By then, they had inhaled a lot of smoke. Nirmala wasn’t able to climb the stairs, and collapsed,” added Kora. Ravi only managed to make it back to his flat, where he was later found unconscious. He was taken to Rajawadi hospital for treatment, where his mother was declared dead on arrival.
Eighty two-year-old Shantaben suffered a similar fate after she tried to rush to the terrace with her daughter-in-law and granddaughter from the eighth floor of the high-rise. Shanti Lal, her 85-year-old husband, miraculously survived, even though he failed to walk out of the apartment.
“Once we were alerted about the smoke, all of us were told to head to the terrace. I have a foot problem and was struggling to even get off the bed. After helping my wife out of the flat, my son Deepak helped me get up and rushed me to the next room where the smoke hadn’t entered,” recalled Shanti Lal. An hour later, firefighters rescued Shanti Lal from the flat and carried him down the stairs in a plastic chair. Shantaben however was found unconscious between the eight and ninth floors of the building, having collapsed while trying to make her way to the terrace.
Foram Damani, the couple’s granddaughter, said that they were unable to see past the thick screen of smoke on the narrow staircase, as the electricity supply had been cut, plunging the stairs in darkness. The mother-daughter duo managed to rush to the terrace, while Shantaben was left behind. “We were married for 64 years, and now it has come to an end so abruptly,” lamented Shanti Lal.
Prima-facie evidence suggests that the fire broke out due to increased load and lack of ventilation in the meter room. Chandra Ganganna, who was sleeping in a nearby shack when the incident occurred, rushed to the spot and alerted locals. He said, “I heard a crackling sound and some explosions. I rushed to the building and called out to the residents, knocking on many doors to alert them”.
Fire brigade officials will send a notice to the building committee regarding safety measures. Jagdish Manik, who has a shop within the building premises, said, “The fire-fighting equipment installed in the building are not in working order. Despite repeated complaints about its fixture, the managing committee has been laid back.”
H C Patil, electrical inspector from the Public Works Department (PWD) said, “The short circuit could have been caused due to the increased use of air-conditioners in summer. The weather could have caused the circuits to heat up.” Officials from the fire department and PWD are further investigating the conditions that may have led to the short circuit.