Kamala Mills fire: How victims tried to escape after being trapped in tinderbox

Updated: 30 December, 2017 18:49 IST | A Correspondent | Mumbai

Surrounded by flaming bamboo scaffolding and no windows to let out the smoke and heat, the victims resorted to breaking the glass façade of the building

The bamboo awning at the rooftop restaurant served as kindling for the blaze. Pic/Bipin Kokate
The bamboo awning at the rooftop restaurant served as kindling for the blaze. Pic/Bipin Kokate

A visit to Kamala Mills gives a chilling insight into the last, desperate minutes of those trying to escape Thursday night's blaze. There was nothing left of the rooftop restaurant except for the charred remnants of the bamboo awning - the same material that had served as kindling for the inferno. Minutes before disaster struck, patrons sat in the bamboo booths, never suspecting how readily these could turn into cages of fire.

CM Devendra Fadnavis visited the spot yesterday. Pics/Sameer Markande
CM Devendra Fadnavis visited the spot yesterday. Pics/Sameer Markande

Those who managed to escape to the stairs faced another problem - the entire building was glass, but there was a not a single window they could open to let the smoke and heat out. When this reporter went to the site, the glass facade near the staircase was broken in several spots, likely a desperate measure by the victims to let some fresh air in.

A worker from a nearby restaurant told this paper, "At many places, the canopy at open-terrace restaurants is erected using bamboo and tarpaulin sheets, which are inflammable. Also, the glass facade in such buildings prevents smoke from going out, which makes it even harder for people to escape in case of a fire."

Action taken
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis also visited the spot on Friday evening to take stock of the crisis. He told reporters, "It's a very unfortunate incident in which people died. We have asked the BMC commissioner to conduct an inquiry and, already, five civic officials have been suspended. The owner of the restaurant will be booked under the relevant sections of the IPC, and the same will be done with the BMC engineers who have been suspended." The CM added, "I have also instructed the BMC commissioner to immediately conduct a fire and safety audit at all recreational spaces, such as restaurants, malls and pubs. If they find any violations, then the places will be demolished on war footing."

Why only now?
Fadnavis gave no answer when reporters asked him why such actions are initiated only after a tragedy; the CM merely dodged the question and left the spot. According to Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray, who also visited the spot yesterday, he had anticipated the possibility of a fire mishap at Kamala Mills just the day before. "I am equally shaken up by the unfortunate fire incident that killed so many people. Just the day before, I had visited the area and come across something that was a cause of concern – the narrow spaces and lack of access for firefighting vehicles. I discussed the same with the Mayor, who had promised to take up the issue in the standing committee meeting," he said.

He said there were similar issues at Todi Mill and Raghuvanshi Mill, as well. "There is a need to conduct fire audits at Kamala, Todi and Raghuvanshi mills, as during an emergency, the fire brigade will find it very difficult to douse a fire. I have been in touch with the BMC commissioner and other officials since last night, and have been following up on the issue. An inquiry has already been ordered and strict action will be taken against those responsible, be it be BMC officials, the restaurant or pub owners, or the owner of the mill," Aaditya added. Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar said, "An inquiry has been ordered, and strict action will be taken against those found responsible."

'Declare compliance'
Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray suggested that all eateries and pubs in the city should display an information card at their entrance to inform patrons whether the place is fire compliant or not.

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First Published: 30 December, 2017 18:41 IST

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