|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
Kolkata market fire blazes on; Army called in
January 13, 2008 15:47 IST
The Army has been called in to assist operations to fight Kolkata's Burrabazar fire. Some army personnel have already entered the eighth floor of fire-ravaged Nandaram building to control the blaze in the 13-storeyed structure.
The entire high-rise Nandaram Market could collapse with pockets of fire still raging in some floors, prompting the police to cordon off the area around the structure.
"With so much heat generated after the fire, the building may collapse. If it doesn't, we will pull it down later," said Fire Services Minister Pratim Chatterjee.
Chatterjee said he had instructed Commissioner of Police Goutam Chakrabarty to cordon off the entire area around the Nandaram Market building to prevent any loss of life should the building collapse.
Stating that pockets of fire were still seen in the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the building, he said more than 100 barrels of diesel were stored in the structure's top floor and the firemen were now trying to prevent the blaze from spreading to that floor.
Chatterjee said ladders could not be used to fight the blaze inside the building and firemen, armed with masks and oxygen cylinders, were climbing up the stairs to the affected floors to put out the fire.
"Even with masks and oxygen cylinders, they are finding it difficult to climb up the narrow stairs owing to the heat. They are getting exhausted very quickly," he said.
In reply to a question, the minister said the fire tenders of the Army and the Air Force were being used but without much result.
"We can understand this. After all, the Army and the Air Force firemen are not trained to fight high-rise fires. They are more accustomed with surface operations," he said, adding that firemen of the Airports Authority of India were also working at the spot.
The fire fighters said water scarcity is still posing a major problem with its relay supply failing at times. Meanwhile, a section of traders of the Nandaram Market alleged that the fire services department was not doing enough to put out the blaze.
Denying the allegations, Chatterjee said the fire services personnel had risked their lives to fight the blaze. "In a situation like this, we cannot specify as to when the fire will be totally put out. Our men are doing their best and even risking their lives in the process," he said.
While expressing sympathy for those who suffered losses owing to the fire, Chatterjee, however, said that the shopowners of the Nandaram Market should also take responsibility for the incident.
"I am sympathetic to those who suffered losses. I even know some of them personally. I am told that many of them had not even insured their stocks. They are also partly responsible for what is happening," he said.
Stating that the nine upper floors of the Nandaram Market building had been illegally constructed, Chatterjee said on several occasions in the past, he had asked the shop owners in the building and the adjoining markets to take fire-prevention measures.
"But every time, the shopowners said that it was the responsibility of the building owners to take such measures. On the other hand, the building owners pleaded helplessness as the shopowners paid them very low rent," the minister said.
More than 2,500 shops and offices were gutted and property worth several crores were destroyed in the fire, which swept some buildings in the Burrabazar area since the early hours of Saturday.