A huge fire raged at 11.30 am yesterday at the hutments behind Backbay Depot. The area known as Ambedkar Nagar has thousands of illegal homes built extremely close to each other.
With over 14 cylinder blasts, the flames spread over an area of 8,000 sq m. The land, which is under the jurisdiction of the collector of Mumbai, had been taken over by slum dwellers. The plot measures 1,09,977 sq mt and comprises 3-4 slums; Ambedkar Nagar is one of them with an area more than 20,000 sq m. The cause of the fire is yet to be determined.
It took officials almost two and a half hours to douse the flames, owing to the wall-to-wall houses. Firefighters had difficulty entering the inner parts of the slum that were on fire, because there was barely any space to move around. Navigation too was an issue as the lanes were confusing and officials didn’t know the way inside the maze of shacks.
Deputy Chief Fire Officer P S Rahandale said, “The fire was on the rear end of the slum and there were only three entry points — one from the BEST depot, one from the World Trade Centre end and the third from the Aadarsh Nagar transit camp end. We had eight water tankers and 16 fire engines at the site.
The major problem was to manage the huge crowd with such narrow lanes. It was so congested that only two people could go inside, and hence, to reduce the flames, we had to take our resources from over the roofs. This again posed another danger, as the equipment was heavy.
But we managed to save most of the houses. Most importantly, in such cases where there are lot of injuries, very little problems were caused to human life.” One person was killed in the incident, and is yet to be identified. Three were injured – two were treated on an OPD basis and one suffered minor burns and has been admitted to St George’s Hospital in Fort.
Dr Jagdish Bhavani, medical superintendent at St George’s told MiD DAY, “Two were treated in the out patient department, as one had sustained superficial burns to his face and another a fractured thigh. However, one patient sustained 18 per cent burns to the face and had to be admitted. His condition is stable as of now.”
Fire department authorities opined that unchecked expansion of the slum had worsened the situation. According to them, 12-13 years ago, the slums were hardly 50 feet away from the depot. Today, the slum extends to a distance of two kilometers, and almost touches the shore. Even the mangroves have not been spared.
A senior fire official who was involved in rescue operations during a fire at the same slum 12 years ago said, “Earlier it was easy to go in, as the hutments had not spread so far. But on Thursday, it was almost impossible for me to get in and do my job.”
Even the collector’s office is unsure of how many huts in the slum are actually legal. According to them, the survey is still going on and an exact number could not be quoted.
Mumbai collector Chandrashekhar Oak said, “We have not decided upon any compensation or rehabilitation, as it will come from the state government. We will survey the site and check our records to know if there was encroachment. If it has occurred near mangroves, then it is under the jurisdiction of the forest department and they have to take action against the same.”
Oak said that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had arranged for temporary accommodation of the affected families people in two BMC schools near Sassoon Docks.
No of huts that were burnt
8,000 sq m
Area in which the fire raged
1,09,977 sq m
Total area of the land of which Ambedkar Nagar is one part