South Mumbai building fire fails to devour marriage plans
When the going gets tough, the Mumbaikar keeps going. The massive fire that broke out on Saturday evening at 33, Gokul Niwas in Kalbadevi, made the entire five-storey structure collapse like a pack of cards, but one of the structure’s erstwhile residents, Priyanka Pol (24) is going ahead with her marriage plans as per schedule, despite having lost all her bridal finery in the inferno.
Thick smoke engulfs the road leading to the blazing building. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Priyanka had been a resident of this building since birth and stayed on the fifth floor. She was to marry Swapnil Surve on May 30. The family had purchased around 65 sarees to be distributed to family members and all the jewellery and dress material was in the house when this fire took place. "I was in office when my sister called around 4 pm to inform me about the fire. I immediately called the fire brigade and rushed back home. My only concern was the status of my family members," said Priyanka.
While the cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained, onlookers said that the fire started after an explosion in the building around 3.30 pm, which was followed by four to five other explosions on the second floor. By 5 pm, the fire had engulfed all five floors plus the ground floor of the building from one side.
When Priyanka and her father reached the spot, they were relieved to find out that their family members who were stuck on the fifth floor were rescued, but all the material gathered for the wedding, worth almost R6 lakh, was lost in the fire.
Priyanka Pol and Swapnil Surve will go ahead with their marriage plans
Despite this tragedy, the couple has decided to get married on the same day. "The safety of the family is more important to us, and now that everyone is safe, we will get married on the same day at the same venue," said Swapnil, the groom. His mother Archana Surve, who was also present at the spot, stated that the only thing important was the family and since everyone is well and got away with no injuries, the wedding will happen as planned, only not as grand as they had imagined.
The tragedy unfolds
The building caught fire at around 4.30 pm. But fire engines couldn't reach on time because of the narrow lane within which the building stands. Illegal parking of vehicles on Ambedkar Road below J J Flyover and in the narrow lanes of Pydhonie also delayed the rescue operation by more than an hour. Fire vehicles, tankers and ambulances, coming to rescue those trapped inside the building were stuck in an approximately kilometre-long traffic jam. The police officials had to take help of local residents in order to move bikes and cars, parked by the side of the road, to make way for emergency vehicles. However, residents blamed the police for the illegal parking.
The structure that was
This building was under construction and was covered by wooden scaffolding and a net in order to stop the debris from falling on passers-by. Officials said that the net and wooden scaffolding fed the blaze as the material quickly caught fire and spread to the entire building. According to fire officials, the width of the lane is barely 2.5 metres and only two engines could enter the narrow lane at a time. Even ambulances could not reach on time to rescue the injured. Fire officials were also finding it difficult to get enough water, as there is no other source of water in the vicinity.
"There's also only one snorkel ladder and between one fire engine moving to make way for another fire engine for the purpose of water, the firemen on the ladder have to wait. This is causing more problems and fire is already spreading to the sides of the building," said one of the officers.
The first portion of the building fell through at around 8.15 pm and another small portion fell at around 9.30 pm. With fire officials still struggling to douse the fire, the remainder of the building finally gave in by 10.30 pm and the entire structure fell to the floor like a pack of cards.
"When we first heard the explosion, we thought it was a cylinder explosion but in the next ten minutes there were several other explosions. By 4.30 (pm), when only one or two fire engines were at the spot, the entire building was engulfed in flames," said Ankit Shah, a resident of neighbouring Narrottam Building. He added that the collapsed structure was mainly used for commercial purposes and housed various fabric wholesale outlets. Fire officials stated that the main cause for the fire to spread that quickly was the fabrics stored inside and the wooden frames spread through the building.
Neighbours stated that this was a 50-year-old structure, which had recently gone into re-plastering work. Because the work was still underway, many wires were still hanging around, and since the main meter room was also on the second floor, the wires quickly caught fire, causing a short circuit.
"There is a small gold jewellery workshop, owned by a Bengali family, on the fourth floor of the building. It also uses certain chemicals, which might have added to the fire by the time it reached the fourth floor. As of now, we cannot guess how many people are still stuck inside the building," said Dhawal Joshi, another resident of Narrottam Building.
Two other students, Sahil Shah and Monil Pawar, who reside nearby also noticed a woman jump out of the second floor of the building, and ended up falling on her feet. She was rushed to a nearby hospital with knee injuries. "Since the fire started on the second floor, those on the top floors got stuck and couldn't leave the building. The windows on all floors are covered with iron grills so many were stuck inside," added another onlooker.
A senior fire officer confirmed that Chief Fire Officer Sunil Nesrikar, who was rushed to Masina Hospital, had sustained around 50 per cent burn injuries on his face, head and neck as well as lower extremities. "He sustained injuries when a ball of flame hit his face. We will shift him to the Airoli burns centre for further treatment," said the officer.
Nesrikar was also part of the fire rescue operations when a similar fire had engulfed another commercial building in Andheri (W), where a fireman had lost his life. Officials also confirmed that Deputy Fire Officer S D Amin was also rushed to Bombay Hospital with 95 per cent burn injuries. He is on ventilator support at the Airoli burns centre and his situation continues to be critical. Two other fire officers were rushed to GT Hospital with minor burn injuries, while two others, who were trapped under the debris, died.
The crowd that had gathered around the building was getting difficult to handle and eventually police had to use force to disperse the public. By 9.30 pm, the police cordoned off the area between Dilli Bazaar and Metro in order to push the crowd away from the site. NDRF officials were at the spot by 11 pm.
To the rescue
The ground floor of the building had a small temple inside and one of the merchants ran inside the building to fetch an idol of a goddess. However, a fireman had to rush to his rescue as a portion of the ceiling was about to collapse. "The merchant got saved but the fireman got injured while saving this merchant. The fireman was finally pulled out and sent to a hospital," said another onlooker
The fourth floor also had two residential houses, but no casualties have been reported from either house. The owner of one of the houses had already moved out of the building while the other family is out on vacation