Short circuit or firecrackers? Fire brigade probes cause of Make In India event blaze

Feb 15, 2016, 07:35 IST | Varun Singh and Ranjeet Jadhav

Fire department officials suspect short circuit or firecrackers could have caused blaze that gutted Make In India's stage mid-event at Girgaum Chowpatty in Mumbai

Saturday was supposed to be Maharashtra’s turn to shine during the Make In India Week but instead, the night ended in a hot mess, with a massive fire engulfing the stage at Girgaum Chowpatty. The fire broke out near the end of a lavni performance, even as the dancers continued their routine, unaware of the crisis.

Also read: Fire at Make in India event brought under control

14 fire engines were called into action to douse the blaze. Pic/Bipin Kokate
14 fire engines were called into action to douse the blaze. Pic/Bipin Kokate

The flames spread quickly, carried by the sea breeze. However, the authorities moved swiftly to evacuate everyone from the grounds. No casualties were reported. Fire officials suspected the cause may have been a short circuit or pyrotechnics gone wrong.

The organisers were asked to prepare a list of all the items on and around the stage area so the officials could finish the panchnama immediately. Pics/Shadab Khan
The organisers were asked to prepare a list of all the items on and around the stage area so the officials could finish the panchnama immediately. Pics/Shadab Khan

As part of the Make In India week, a cultural extravaganza titled Maharashtra Night had been planned at the beach, and a special stage and venue was set up there. The gala event was attended by CM Devendra Fadnavis, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and his wife Rashmi, Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan, among many other celebrities and political personalities.

Around 8.20 pm, lavani dancers were performing to the tune of the famous Marathi song Mala Jau Dya Na Ghari (let me go home) from the movie Natrang, when the fire broke out below the stage. The dancers, apparently unaware of the danger, kept dancing. However, organisers spotted the flames and jumped into action and switched off the music. The artistes – including those onstage and others waiting backstage – were moved away from the stage, while VVIPs and the remaining audience were evacuated.

Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi, who was hosting the event and was at the stage wings, ready to resume his role after the dance, said the fire had started abruptly, leaving everybody in shock. However, he praised the quick response of the Mumbai Police, fire officials and organisers.

“Organisers immediately jumped in with fire extinguishers and tried to douse the fire. There were children with mobile phones clicking pictures and I asked them to run for their lives. The police managed the evacuation well. We broke the barricade behind the stage for performers to exit and within minutes, every single person was at least 300-400 feet away from the stage,” said Oberoi.

Kailash Sharma, who was attending the programme said the audience cooperated with instructions and exited calmly. “There were around 15,000 people present at the spot but there was no panic. At the start of the programme, announcements were made about the exit routes in the case of emergencies. What gave people strength was the sight of the CM monitoring the entire situation from the front, instead of heading to safe locations along with other celebrities and VVIPs,” recalled Sharma.

According to state BJP spokesperson Atul Shah, CM Devendra Fadnavis had asked his wife to leave as well, but she stayed back to help him tackle the situation.

Emergency response
The fire brigade arrived with 14 fire engines, 10 water tankers, eight jumbo water tankers, accompanied by several emergency ambulances.

“We had two vehicles parked at the venue and sent fourteen engines and ten tankers to douse the fire. There are two possibilities — the fire was caused by either a short circuit or firecrackers. We will investigate both possibilities. Being close to Chowpatty, there was a possibility that the fire would spread faster, but it was controlled in time. No casualties were reported in the incident,” said Chief Fire Officer (CFO) PS Rahangdale.

He added that he would file a report about the incident and what caused it within two days. Around 10 pm, the CFO asked the organisers to compile a list of all the items that were kept on and around the stage, so a panchnama could be done immediately. The event management company also checked the list of crew members and volunteers to see if they could account for everyone getting out safely. In the meanwhile, Fadnavis called for an emergency meeting along with BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta and Commissioner of Mumbai Police Datta Padsalgikar.

A team of doctors from JJ Hospital was sent to the spot in case of emergency cases. Three people were rushed to different hospitals including JJ, Saifee and Jaslok. The doctors confirmed that none of the patients sustained any burn injuries.

'Nothing on stage escalated the fire'
The fire at Make in India’s Maharashtra Night came as a shock to renowned art director Nitin Chandrakant Desai, who had also worked on the 160 x 120 feet stage, which was gutted.

Art director Nitin Chandrakant DesaiArt director Nitin Chandrakant Desai

Speaking to mid-day, Desai said, “In my career spanning 32 years, such an incident has taken place for the first time and it is very saddening. A proper investigation is needed on what led to the fire, because no stage material or anything related to the stage can be blamed for escalating it. Utmost precaution was taken, especially since the event was next to Chowpatty. Some are saying a short circuit caused the incident, but nothing can be confirmed until the investigation.”

Performers speak
mid-day managed to speak with performers from a well-known dhol tasha group form Chunabhatti, Morya. Their performance was up next and they were waiting backstage when the flames erupted. One of the members, Aniket Kamble, said “It was a big day for us; a total of hundred of us were slated to perform in front of such a large audience for the first time. We were to perform the song Jagdambe and were gearing up to go onstage when fire broke out. We ran for our lives but could grab only half of our dhol tashas. We have no clue what happened to the ones we left behind,” said Kamble.

'First to see it'
Minister of State Vijay Shivtare, who was sitting in the first row on the extreme left, said he was the first to spot the fire. “While I was watching the programme, I noticed the fire on the left-hand side of the stage and so I got up and ran towards the stage and told the dancers to protect themselves,” he said.

CM tweets
@Dev_Fadnavis: Very unfortunate occurrence of fire in cultural program organised by GoM at Mumbai. No casualties reported, no one is injured. 14 Fire engines, 10 Water Tankers, and all Sr. Fire Officers are on site. Fire now totally under control. Program called off. Venue was evacuated immediately. Traffic management allowed early dispersal without any trouble. A fire safety audit was conducted prior to program & all SOPs were followed. Number of fire fighting equipments were kept stationed at venue. A comprehensive inquiry into the incidence of fire will be conducted to ascertain reasons.

8.20 pm: Wireless message about the fire was reported at control room of fire brigade
8.22 pm: Fire department confirmed the priority 2 fire breakout 
8.54 pm: NDRF Mumbai team was asked to be ready to tackle the situation 
9.07 pm: Firemen managed to control the blaze 
9.35 pm: CM, principal secretaries, BMC commissioner and Mumbai police commissioner held a meeting in the disaster control room of BMC headquarters
9.59 pm: Fire Department confirmed the fire had been doused
10.06 pm: CM takes stock and leaves the BMC disaster control room

'We thought it was part of the show'
Make in India’s gala cultural event, titled Maharashtra Night, came to an abrupt end yesterday after a fire engulfed the performance stage. Dahisar resident Rajiv Singal, who was present at the event with his family of six, thought the fire was part of the show. Another eyewitness suggested the fire started because of pyrotechnics for the stage.

“The program started at 7.30 pm and it was a huge and lavish event. Several celebrities and politicians were also present. The incident took place around 8.30 pm, when the Lavani performance was going on,” Singal told mid-day.

“We were sitting in the H row. The lavani show was about to end when the fire was seen on stage. Initially, we thought that it was part of the performance or that some celebrity must be coming on stage. The fire started swelling and people panicked. We got up, but the volunteers asked us to sit, saying the situation was normal. However, after three minutes, the fire was huge. All the artistes were put in a safe area, while all the guests were safely escorted out,” Singal recalled. - Saurabh Vaktania

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