Mumbai Fire Safety Audit: Your house could also become a fire trap

Updated: 10 January, 2018 19:41 IST | Laxman Singh | Mumbai

Thought only commercial establishments are fire traps? These are just four residential places we found where hundreds of lives are at risk

Bhuleshwar

What is the one fatal flaw common to the worst fires Mumbai has witnessed in recent years? Last week's blaze that killed four in Marol, last month's inferno that claimed 14 lives at Kamala Mills, and the Kalbadevi fire in 2015 that resulted in the death of four firefighters, including ex-chief Sunil Nesarikar - in every single case, the fire brigade had to battle narrow, congested roads to get to the spot to start firefighting.

With every fire, it is the same story - the buildings are all crowded together, the access roads are too narrow for fire vehicles, and more often than not, haphazardly parked vehicles block the way completely. It was the same case at Maimoon Manzil in Marol, where a major blaze killed four family members on January 4. The fire brigade took nearly 45 minutes to reach the spot because of a narrow access route.

Despite witnessing such disasters repeatedly, the BMC's building proposal department, fire brigade and builders continue to ignore the threat of overcrowding and congestion, and are instead gobbling up the few remaining open spaces. mid-day visits a few such at-risk locations in the city and finds that from high-rises to slums, they are all ticking time bombs.

Walkeshwar
Ganga Ashram Chawl, Banganga Cross Lane
Walkeshwar is home to hundreds of slum dwellers as well as some of Mumbai's billionaires and VIPs. But whether they live in posh high-rises or cramped chawls, the residents of Walkeshwar face the same risks. Case in point: During a recent fire at the 32-storey Legend Towers, the fire brigade roped in its special 90-metre snorkel van to douse the blaze, but the fire-fighters had a tough time operating the massive vehicle because of the congested space around the building.

Vehicles are parked on both sides of the lane, creating a bottleneck
Vehicles are parked on both sides of the lane, creating a bottleneck

The same congested street - Banganga Cross Lane - leads to the governor's house and to Ganga Ashram Chawl. Ashok Kokate, a resident of the chawl, said, "The 500-metre stretch connects Walkeshwar Road from one side to the governor's house on the other side. The biggest menace in this lane is haphazard parking on both the sides of roads. There are three buildings - Ganges, Anurag and A-One apartments - along this street. In case of a fire, it will be impossible for fire engines to reach the spot."

Ganga Ashram Chawl

Another resident, Mahesh Pandya, said, "This road is no wider than 30 feet, and vehicles are parked on both sides of the lane, creating a bottleneck in front of the Ganges building. The street is completely blocked, and in case of a fire, the fire brigade will have zero access. There is only one fire hydrant, and we need more. Our complaints have fallen on deaf ears." Gulbir Bhatia, secretary of Ganges building, said, "The vehicles parked on both sides of the lane are a big problem for us. We can't even move our cars in the morning. Everyone should come forward to resolve this problem to avoid a future tragedy."

700
No. of lives at risk, including in the chawl and nearby high-rise buildings

30 ft
Width of Banganga Cross Lane, connects to slums and the governor's house

Charni Road
Parekh Market, Near Opera House
Originally an eight-storey building, Parekh Market was raised by another two floors after BMC's permission in 1970. However, the BMC had granted permission on the condition that the building gate would be widened for smooth entry and exit for fire-fighting vehicles.

The BMC had asked for the entrance route to be widened nearly 48 years ago
The BMC had asked for the entrance route to be widened nearly 48 years ago

But 48 years later, the gate still remains at its original width of 15 feet. This is less than half the width required for the smooth operation of a fire engine. Activist Jeetendra Ghadge, who lives nearby, has been fighting to highlight this violation of fire safety, and the fire brigade finally initiated prosecution of the building administration recently.

Parekh Market

"The building and, by extension, our homes are a fire trap. In case of an accident, the fire brigade will find it difficult to even access the spot. In 1981, the fire brigade asked the building proposal department to revoke the occupation certificate (OC) for ninth and tenth floors. The fire department also prosecuted the building society, but even now, both storeys are in use. What is the use of such action when our lives are still at risk?" questioned Ghadge.

Bhuleshwar
132/D/B, Phool Galli
A late night fire on Monday gutted a shop at Phool Galli in Bhuleshwar. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the incident has served as a warning for the locals. Bhuleshwar and Kalbadevi are infamous for old, dilapidated buildings that are quick to catch fire, but another major problem is the narrow, congested space between any two buildings.

Phool Galli is a tight fit at just 10 feet across - so narrow that two vehicles can't enter at the same time
Phool Galli is a tight fit at just 10 feet across - so narrow that two vehicles can't enter at the same time

Phool Galli too is a tight fit at just 10 feet across - so narrow that two vehicles cannot enter at the same time. Local activist D M Shah said, "This complete area is vulnerable to fire; even a small blaze can kill hundreds here. I have filed a complaint with the BMC regarding illegal shop extensions that have made the narrow lanes more congested, but no action has been taken."

Phool Galli

"There are several spots that are difficult even for a person to manoeuvre, let alone a fire engine. Worse yet, the jewellery making units store gas cylinders and acids, which can explode at any time," he said. He added that Phohalwadi, Bhoiwadi lane, and Maruti lane were other pathways equally at risk.

400
No. of lives at risk at Bhuleshwar's Phool Galli

10 ft
Width of Phool Galli in Bhuleshwar

Worli Naka
Lokhandwala Harmony, Dr E Moses Road
The recent spate of fires in the city has left residents of the 20-storey Lokhandwala Harmony in a state of dread. Their biggest worry is the narrow lane leading up to the high-rise. At 20 feet across, the lane already is not wide enough for a fire truck to reverse or make a U-turn.

Lokhandwala Harmony

Worse yet, one entire side of the lane has been taken up by parked vehicles, reducing the available road space to a mere 13 feet. Anil Dharker, one of the residents, said, "Only one car can pass at a time. We do have a parking lot for the building, but there is not enough space for everyone's cars, so the vehicles spill over onto the road."

The lane outside the building is so narrow that only one car can pass at a time. Pics/Bipin Kokate
The lane outside the building is so narrow that only one car can pass at a time. Pics/Bipin Kokate

He added, "In case of a fire or any emergency, either in the nearby SRA building or in ours, it would be very difficult for the fire engines to enter, as the street is full of cars. During a fire, we won't even be able to find the owners of the vehicle, let alone ask them to move their cars. We have requested fire brigade to look into this problem."

400
No. of lives at risk

13 ft
Reduced width of access route due to wrong parking

Fire Brigade says
Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Technical), R A Choudhary, said, "When we give permission for any high-rise, we ensure a 6-metre compulsory open space around the tower for fire vehicles. In some cases, encroachments have to be cleared out. Since we know there is an access issue, we insist that societies enhance their in-house fire-fighting systems. In areas like Kalbadevi and Bhuleshwar, there is no space, so we station our vehicles adjacent to the building and connect our hose closer to the spot."

45
Minutes it took the fire brigade to reach the spot of the Marol blaze

36 feet
Manoeuvring room required by fire engines

08 feet
Width of a fire engine

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First Published: 10 January, 2018 12:20 IST

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