Kolkata fire rages for the second day


Kolkata : Kolkata’s worst fire in living memory continued to rage for the second day Sunday at the city’s biggest wholesale market, engulfing thousands of shops amid fears that a multi-storied building could come crashing down.

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The blaze, which destroyed at least eight buildings, broke out at 1 a.m. Saturday in the Tirpalpatti and Nandaram complex of Burrabazar – eastern India’s largest wholesale market – and continued despite the efforts of 42 fire tenders aided by the army, air force and the Airports Authority of India (AAI).

On Sunday, the fire brigade personnel were totally helpless as the fire went out of control, catching the higher floors of the Nandaram market building. They don’t have enough equipment to reach the high buildings to put out the blaze.

“The fire is raging in the Keshoram block (the 11th and 12th floor) of Nandaram market building. The building can come crashing down any moment,” a fire brigade official said. A part of the building has already collapsed.

There are also reports that a huge quantity of petroleum products is stored on one of the top floors of the Nandaram market building. If the fire catches that floor there could be a huge explosion, the official said.

Traders of Burrabazar said about 2,500 shops, dealing in plastics, polythene and other inflammable material, were gutted and losses could cross Rs.2 billion.

West Bengal Fire Minister Pratim Chatterjee told reporters Sunday that he was not an astrologer to predict when the fire would end.

“Army and air force personnel are also working but it is not an easy task. It will take time. I cannot say when because I am not an astrologer,” he said.

While the buildings burned, the traders and residents wailed as they lost everything in the fire. Angry residents and traders said the fire brigade men arrived late.

Said an angry trader of Burrabazar: “This fire will never end unless the army is called out fully. Helicopters should be pressed into service. The chief minister should hang his head in shame for not having a disaster management system. The ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) is holding a rally in Kolkata.”

Trader Ganesh Bhagat wept as he saw the blaze. “Everything I had was in those shops. They were my future, the future of my family. What will I do now?” Bhagat lost three of his three stores on Jamunalal Bajaj Street, also known as Tirpalpatti because most of the shops deal in tarpaulin.

B.D. Mimani, secretary of the local trade body, said “99 percent” of the traders had not insured their shops and would have to rebuild their lives from scratch.

Though there was no casualty, the inadequacy of the fire fighting system was laid bare as the army, air force and the airport authorities had to be called in to control the blaze, but not with much success.

It was not clear how the early morning fire began but an electrical short circuit or sabotage is reported to be a possible cause. The flames spread across the area engulfing buildings, burning markets. A thick umbrella of noxious fumes covered the sky.

Burrabazar is the wholesale market area of Kolkata with clusters of unplanned and unauthorised constructions. The fire spread fast, fanned by a breeze and helped along by inflammables material like plastics, polythene and garments.