Stuck in midnight blaze, Mumbai building residents turn firefighters

Sensing a delay in the arrival of the fire brigade, residents of the Ahmed Umar building in Dadar fought their way out of the fire that gutted their building, 17 shops and a hotel; Fire officials say they reached late because they were on their way to douse another fire

Residents of the Ahmed Umar building in Dadar (West) bravely battled a deadly midnight fire that gutted 17 shops and a hotel. They spearheaded a rescue operation — ensuring zero casualties and helping women, children, and the elderly escape with minor injuries — before the fire brigade arrived.

Also read: Two major fires break out in Mumbai, no casualties

A total of 16 fire engines, 8 tankers, and 14 water jets were pressed into operation. PICS/Atul Kamble
A total of 16 fire engines, 8 tankers, and 14 water jets were pressed into operation. Pics/Atul Kamble

While an elderly couple had to be rushed to the KEM Hospital due to smoke inhalation, two of the firemen sustained minor injuries. The Grade-2 fire gutted 17 shops and the Darbar Hotel, which is 70 years old.

The fire
According to the residents, the fire started between 1.15-1.30 am last night, in the ground floor’s electric box, which is located on a wall shared by the building and Darbar Hotel. The heavy smoke alerted a few of the residents. They claim that the fire brigade was informed about the incident at around 1.45 am, but reached the spot only at 2.30 am. Easily flammable material from the garment shops and wedding card printers on the first floor is said to have helped in spreading the fire.

Two fire engines had to be parked on the Kavi Keshavsut Flyover, from where they rescued the residents with the help of a hydraulic ladder
Two fire engines had to be parked on the Kavi Keshavsut Flyover, from where they rescued the residents with the help of a hydraulic ladder

However, it was the alleged 45-minute delay that forced the residents to take matters into their own hands. 68-year-old Dilip Vaidya, a resident of the building said, "There was so much smoke that we couldn’t see or breathe. At around 1.45 am, all the first floor residents were woken up and led through the passage to the roof of the Mama Kane hotel, which is situated on the other side of the road. None of us sustained any injuries but our homes were totally destroyed," said Vaidya.

A group of youngsters from the building and nearby buildings stopped a tempo beneath the building, and kept ladders and sarees on top of it, so that the people could escape with minimal injuries. Only an elderly couple on the first floor was rescued in a breathless and unconscious state after almost two hours.

Two fire engines had to be parked on the Kavi Keshavsut Flyover, from where they rescued the residents with the help of a hydraulic ladderThe society has several commercial establishments that deal in garments, wedding cards. Hawkers also illegally store other easily flammable material. All of this helped the fire to spread faster
The society has several commercial establishments that deal in garments, wedding cards. Hawkers also illegally store other easily flammable material. All of this helped the fire to spread faster

Even after fire brigade reached the spot, they were unable to find adequate parking space for the fire engines. Hence, two of the engines had to be parked on the Kavi Keshavsut Flyover, from where they rescued the residents with the help of a hydraulic ladder.

Homeless residents
The fire has also rendered several residents homeless, as they don’t have any alternate arrangements to live elsewhere. Some residents, who had relatives staying nearby, have moved in with them with whatever luggage they managed to salvage from their homes.

Sudhir Jadhav, a local corporator, who reached the spot, said that he has contacted the MHADA authorities to locate transit camps. "I have been in talks with the authorities and we have a meeting on Saturday. We will try and accommodate all the residents to a transit camp nearby, so that they don’t face any issues. Most of them are daily-wage workers who work nearby, hence we cannot shift them to far away places," he said.

Damages
Speaking to mid-day, Dattanad A Prabhu, owner of Darbar Hotel, said he felt as if his baby was set on fire, right in front of his eyes. Prabhu, who has been managing the ancestral business for more than 50 years, couldn’t hold back his tears while looking at the completely charred remains.

He said, "I received a call in the middle of night from one of our workers telling me about the fire. Fortunately, all of my colleagues who sleep in the hotel at night escaped and even helped in evacuating the residents." He added that a major tragedy was averted since the hotel’s kitchen is located elsewhere, however, the damage has run into lakhs.

Fire failure
Residents allege that the 45-minute delay multiplied the damage to the commercial structures and houses.

The society has several commercial establishments that deal in garments, wedding cards. Hawkers also illegally store other easily flammable material.

All of this helped the fire to spread faster, thus causing more damage till the fire brigade could reach the spot.

Fire officials confirmed that the firemen rescued a total of 50-60 people from the building. A total of 16 fire engines, 8 tankers, and 14 water jets were pressed into operation.

Fire department says
Chief Fire Officer P S Rahangdale said that the fire brigade had a hard time in carrying out the rescue operation and controlling the fire that was spreading due to the inflammable material. He said, “At first, we got a call saying that there is a fire at Sun Mill Compound, and we were heading there. But then immediately, we received an update that said that the fire at Ahmed Umar Building was bigger, and a lot of people were trapped inside. Because of this, a lot of our resources were diverted. The narrow lanes and parked tempos slowed us down. When we reached, people were on the verge of jumping out of the building. Thus, we had to carry out two important operations, rescuing the trapped victims and control the fire at the same time.”

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