At least six persons were killed and 23 others injured in a major fire that broke out on the 19th floor of a residential building in Tardeo area of central Mumbai on Saturday morning, officials said.
The blaze erupted around 7 am at Sachinam Heights, a ground-plus-20-storey building located opposite Bhatia Hospital at Gowalia Tank when many of the residents were still asleep, an official of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed grief over the incident and announced on Twitter that ex-gratia assistance of Rs 2 lakh would be provided to the family members of each deceased from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund, and the injured would be given Rs 50,000 each.
Maharashtra Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray, who is also the guardian minister of Mumbai suburban district, visited the site and said the state government will provide a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the family members of each deceased.
The blaze appeared to have been caused by a short-circuit, he said.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also condoled the deaths and urged party workers to provide assistance to the affected families.
Some residents of the building alleged that three nearby private hospitals refused to admit injured persons without advance deposit payment and negative COVID-19 certificates.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis alleged that due to these hospitals turning away the victims, the death toll increased.
"The fire broke out on the 19th floor. On being alerted, the fire brigade personnel and police rushed the spot. Several persons were rescued. Twenty-nine of them were taken to different hospitals as some had suffered injuries while others complained of health problems like suffocation," said a BMC official.
Seven persons were taken to the BMC-run Nair Hospital and five of them died, while one more succumbed at the civic-run Kasturba Hospital, he said.
Seventeen injured persons were admitted to Bhatia Hospital and 12 of them were in critical condition, he said. Others were taken to Masina Hospital, Wockhardt Hospital and H N Reliance Hospital.
As many as 13 fire engines and seven water jetties were rushed to the building when the first reports came, the BMC official said.
The fire, categorized as level-3 (major), was extinguished by 12.20 pm, he said.
"There are at least six flats on each floor. Soon after the fire broke out, several residents ran out. The blaze engulfed the floor and some persons got trapped inside," another official said.
Prashant Gaikwad, assistant municipal commissioner of the D-ward where the building is located, said it had been given occupation certificate in 2015. Only one of its two wings was occupied, he said.
In a tweet, PM Modi said, "Saddened by the building fire at Tardeo in Mumbai. Condolences to the bereaved families and prayers with the injured for the speedy recovery."
Minister Aaditya Thackeray said on Twitter that there were reports about two hospitals refusing treatment, but the hospital authorities told him that they did admit and treat some of those injured.
Short-circuit was the apparent cause of the fire and the building has been evacuated completely, he said.
In a social media post, Fadnavis said he was "shocked and anguished" to know that some nearby hospitals refused admission to the injured persons "which resulted into more deaths."
If this was true, action must be taken against those who are responsible, he said.
Some residents said they heard a loud sound followed by black smoke, and recalled the frenzy to get out.
A 50-year-old woman who lives on the fifth floor said, “I heard some noise like firecrackers and realised that something is wrong. As we were all scared, I fell down twice while helping my husband to climb down the staircase... I don't recall how I reached the open area."
Another resident of the building said the power went off and there was a melee of those trying to get out during which many senior citizens were injured.
A woman of the fourth floor said there was a “fat-fat” sound outside a cabin (which presumably housed the AC compressor).
A resident of the neighbouring Matrumandir building attributed the blaze to an AC compressor explosion. Many of the rescued persons were shifted to Mathrumandir and provided first aid and snacks.
Local corporator Meenal Patel told PTI that the land on which the building stands was earlier occupied by a residential colony called Patilwadi, and its residents later got flats in the high-rise.
Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar told reporters that residents told minister Aaditya Thackeray that they suffered mostly because of the smoke.
The BMC would arrange training for residents of such buildings as to how to douse fire and the protocol to be followed when a fire breaks out, she said.
Considering the growing number of such incidents, electricity supply systems in buildings should be checked every six months, and the BMC will take steps for this, Pednekar said.