Andheri fire: Nine of family wiped out by one mistake

Jul 01, 2016, 08:40 IST | Gaurav Sarkar and Neha LM Tripathi

The three survivors of the medical store blaze rushed to douse the raging fire instead of evacuating the rest of the family, leaving nine people trapped in the burning building

With Eid just a week away, the Khan family was in high spirits they rose for sehri at 4.30 am, not knowing it would be the last time the entire family would be together. Disaster struck soon after they went back to sleep — the first warning was the smoke rising from the pharmacy run by the family on the ground floor of their house at Juhu Galli, Andheri.

(From left) Aliza (7), Uzaif (9), Ummehani (9) and Tuba (4)
(From left) Aliza (7), Uzaif (9), Ummehani (9) and Tuba (4)

“I smelled the smoke and woke up. There was a lot of panic all around. From the first floor balcony, I jumped on to the neighbour’s terrace and came down. I was calling out to my family to come out that way too. My son Imtiyaz first tried to go downstairs, but it was too hot. So he and my second son Nazim, also came out through the window,” said Moazzam Khan, the head of the family.

Siddique, who died along with his wife and two kids
Siddique, who died along with his wife and two kids

His wife Shubunnissa fell down the stairs while trying to run out and was knocked unconscious. “She must have suffocated due to the smoke and died,” he said.

Sofiya, seen here with 45-day-old Altamash, who was the youngest to perish
Sofiya, seen here with 45-day-old Altamash, who was the youngest to perish

Survivors’ guilt
Moazzam and his sons, Imtiyaz and Nizam, could not control their tears as he recounted the ordeal. They were the only ones to survive from the family of 12. The flames had engulfed the building within minutes. But the survivors could have saved their family if not for one fatal error.

The entire building was gutted within minutes. Pic/Prabhanjan Dhanu
The entire building was gutted within minutes. Pic/Prabhanjan Dhanu

Initially, the flames were confined to the medical store. After Moazzam and his sons jumped out the window, they tried to open the shop’s shutters and douse the fire, but ended up making things much worse.

With the fresh inflow of oxygen, the fire then blasted upwards to the top floors and trapped the rest of the family inside.

The family
>> Originally from Raebareli, the Shaikhs moved to Mumbai in the 1970s and own a g+2 structure in Juhu Galli 
>> The house used to be a g+1 structure but another floor was added a decade ago 
>> The family ran Wafa Medical on the ground floor and lived on top 
>> The family also has a flat under construction in Santacruz, apart another SRA flat in the same area. However, they were not planning to move anytime soon

Fire brigade delayed
Neighbours alleged that the fire brigade was delayed by over 25 minutes, and so it was the locals who doused most of the fire and fished the bodies out of the debris. However, the fire brigade denied this and said it sent four fire engines and four water tankers to the spot. It took the neighbourhood thousand litres of water to douse the fire. The medicines and chemicals kept in the chemists’ shop fuelled the flames further, and created toxic fumes that led to the family suffocating to death. The compressors in the air conditioner and fridge also exploded. The funeral was held on Thursday night at the Irla Masjid graveyard.

Fire dept says
Deputy chief fire officer AV Kale explained why they were delayed: “We got delayed because of the large number of vehicles illegally parked in the area. In slum pockets like these, the gullies are often narrow and congested. Our men had to manually move all of the vehicles to make way for the fire brigade.”

Neighbours shocked

Abdul Majid Sheikh
Moazzam, Imtiaz, Nizam made a mistake by trying to douse the fire in the shop first, instead on evacuating the family upstairs

Sabir Sheikh
I have been living in this chawl for the past 50 years, but never have I seen anything like this. We had to climb up to the first floor and break the walls to get the victims out

Shakir Ali
Me and the other residents filled drums of water and were trying to douse the fire.

Musheer Khan
Fire officials refused to touch the dead bodies; we had to drag the bodies out ourselves.

Doctor speak
Eight of the nine deceased family members were taken to Cooper hospital, where they were declared dead on arrival. “Their deaths were due to choking and not due to burns. All of them died on the spot,” said a doctor from the post-mortem centre.

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