Five men died after a fire broke out in a five-storeyed under-construction building in the Serum Institute of India's Manjri premises in Pune on Thursday, police said.
All were construction workers whose bodies were recovered by fire brigade personnel from the fifth floor, police said, adding nine others were evacuated from the spot.
Covishield vaccine production won't be hit due to the fire, Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla said.
The Manjri facility is where the Covishield vaccines used in the nationwide inoculation drive against the pandemic are made. The building where fire broke out is one km from the Covishield vaccine manufacturing unit, sources said.
"I would like to reassure all governments & the public that there would be no loss of #COVISHIELD production due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies at @SerumInstIndia," Poonawalla tweeted.
"We have just received some distressing updates; upon further investigation we have learnt that there has unfortunately been some loss of life at the incident. We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed," Poonawalla added.
Mayor Murlidhar Mohol said fire officials recovered the five bodies during the cooling operation.
Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said the state government has ordered a probe into the fire.
The fire, which broke out at 2.45 pm on the fourth and fifth floors of the building, was brought under control in two hours, police said.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Namrata Patil said that nine people were evacuated from the building.
Viral visuals from the site showed smoke billowing out from the Serum Institute facility.
Chief Fire Officer Prashant Ranpise said 15 water tankers were pressed into action and the fire was brought under control around 4.30 pm.
"The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained. Furniture, wiring, cabins were gutted. No major machinery or instruments were stored on the floors where the fire broke out," he said.
"Anguished by the loss of lives due to an unfortunate fire at the @SerumInstIndia. In this sad hour, my thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives. I pray that those injured recover at the earliest," Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.
Modi was briefly in the first floor of the building during his visit to the Serum Institute of India in
November last year to review the status of the vaccine candidate, SII sources said.
Cyrus Poonawalla, SII Chairman and Managing Director said families of each deceased will get a compensation of Rs 25 lakh.
"Today is an extremely sorrowful day for all of us at Serum Institute of India. Regrettably, there were losses of lives in the fire that broke out in our under installation facility situated at the Special Economic Zone at Manjri," he said in a statement.
"We are deeply saddened and offer our condolences to the families of the departed. In this regard, we will be offering a compensation of Rs 25 lakh to each of the families, in addition to the mandated amount as per the norms. We would like to extend our gratitude to everyone for their concerns and prayers in these distressing times."
Ajit Pawar said, "I have taken information from the Pune Municipal Corporation about the incident and instructed locals officials to carry out a detailed probe into the fire."
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray told reporters that as per initial information, an electrical fault caused the fire.
"As per initial information, the fire did not erupt at the unit where the COVID-19 vaccine is being produced, but in the unit where the BCG vaccine is produced," Thackeray said.
Asked about claims that the fire was due to sabotage, Thackeray quipped, They (those making the claim) need to be administered the vaccine of patience."
Thackeray spoke to Adar Poonawalla about the fire and will be visiting the building on Friday, a CMO official said.
Ajit Pawar visited the building on Thursday evening, another official said.
Serum Institute of India Pvt Ltd is the world's largest vaccine manufacturer by number of doses produced and sold globally (more than 1.5 billion doses) which includes Polio vaccine as well as Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Hib, BCG, r-Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccines, as per the company's website.