While the exact cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained, residents said that a small fire was first reported from a small hutment and a shop.Ramesh Marvale, one of the first witnesses to the fire, said, “Most people during were away at work and there were not many people in the area. When we noticed a fire coming out from a shanty, we tried to douse it and started pouring water with buckets. A few minutes later, however, there was a cylinder blast. That’s when we decided we had to run. There was another blast a few minutes later, and everybody started running,“ he said.
Soon, fire engulfed the area and people living in adjoining areas, too, started leaving their homes carrying cylinders, as the smoke could be seen as far as Kandivali (East). Many residents from adjoining slums including Damu Nagar and Gautam Nagar cleared their homes in panic, leading to chaos on the streets. “People were seen running away with LCD screens and computers,“ said a resident.
Fire tenders began reaching the spot around 1 pm, but had trouble getting through the narrow, congested lanes. Gradually, a total of 16 fire engines and 12 tankers, along with other fire vehicles and 17 ambulances, made their way to the area.
Officials said that the fire was brought into control by 3.10 pm. By this time, as per eyewitnesses, more than 50 cylinder blasts had taken place. Grieving residents then started making their way into what was formerly their home, and began picking up the pieces.
“There is nothing left for us here now. Everything is gone our house, belongings, money, jewellery, documents. Everything has been turned into ashes. I have been living here since my birth in 1989, but have never seen something so devastating,“ said area resident Rohit Chavan while holding back the tears.
In the presence of a large number of personnel from the fire department, police, NDRF, civil defence along with local political workers and NGOs, victims doused the remaining flames and recovered the few items that were intact. Officials recovered at least 30 LPG cylinders which had exploded, while many more were being recovered. Locals said that the around 5,000-6,000 who were living in the slum have been rendered homeless. “Sab jal ke rakh ho gaya… kapda, bartan, kuch nai bacha,“ said Yusuf Sheikh, while looking for his missing family members after the incident.Another resident Shrikant Singh said that his family’s entire savings were kept at their home, which were lost in the fire.
Several residents, especially children, went missing in the chaos that followed, while several altercations between residents and officials took place as tempers ran high.
“BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta visited the site and left instructions for immediate relief to the affected families. For around 2,000 people, the arrangement of night shelter, food packets, drinking water, toilet blocks, fogging, lighting arrangements and medical help is being made available at two places BEST plot and Vilasrao Deshmukh park. Also, night shelters are being made available at three municipal schools,“ said a BMC statement. Policemen were also deployed in large numbers in the area.
`He was asleep when fire broke out; body was found under bed
Among the two deceased were an unidentified girl child and a 45-year-old Praladh Kharat. Kharat’s wife, Chandrakala, told Mirror that her husband was asleep when the fire engulfed their house.
“My husband was asleep on the top floor. I had just stepped out of the house to purchase some medicines. I had not walked too far when I saw the fire. I began to run back home to get my husband out of the house. The fire seemed to be reaching my home faster than I could when a cylinder exploded close to our house. My house was up in flames in no time. There was nothing I could do to save my husband,“ Chandrakala said adding that when the fire officials found her husband’s body, it was found under the bed he was sleeping on.
A fire official on the spot said it seemed that Kharat had tried to find safety under the bed. “When the man’s body was found, it was curled up under the bed. He might have tried to save himself by hiding under the bed but the bed must have caught fire and trapped him,“ the source said.
Vijay V Singh & Nitasha Natu TNN
“How do we go on now?“ was the question on most lips at Kandivli’s Damu Nagar where around 2,000 hutments were destroyed in a blaze on Monday afternoon. Two people died and 11 were injured after a massive fire in the slum, which officials said spread after cylinders in the shanties exploded.Its cause is yet to be determined.“The fire started around noon, probably due to a cylinder blast in one home, and then spread quickly . There were several explosions as many residents had LPG cylinders,“ said additional commissioner, north region, Fatehsinh Patil.
Local corporator Ajanta Yadav said the fire could have staarted after a woman tried to set herself ablaze during a fight with her husband.
As the slum is on the slope of a hill, fire-fighters broke a brick wall at the bottom of the slope to lay down large pipes that could carry water uphill. It was impossible for engines to drive up to the narrow clusters of hutments. Many people initially ran up the hill to save themselves, but once the fire was doused began the search for missing relatives, especially children due to return from school at the time. Rinku Gupta, who was in Damu Nagar for a meeting on Monday , said he counted 27 explosions while trying to run for his life. “Even after fire-fighting operations were over, the neigh bourhood wasn’t safe as it was litte red with li ve wires and gas cy linders that didn’t ex plode. But residents walked back to check the da mage to their homes,“ he said.Bhiva Shirsat, a driver who works in Thakur Village, thanked his stars when he was reunited with his 11-year-old son and five-year-old daughter. “My wife and I were at work and the kids at school when the fire gutted our house. The kids leave school around noon and we knew they would be headed home that time,“ said Shirsat.
To avoid a stampede, police allowed only fire brigade vehicles or ambulances to enter the lane. BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta later visited the spot and asked civic officials to arrange for night shelters for the affected in three municipal schools.
Most women in the slum work as domestic helps in Lokhandwala and Thakur Village. “I spent Rs 12,000 on repairing my house last year. Every inch of it is burnt down,“ wept 70-year-old Shantabai Sutte. She tried to sort through pieces of crockery strewn across the blackened floor. “I can’t walk properly ,“ she said, pointing to a wound on her leg, adding, “My sons are jobless. My grandson is the sole breadwin ner. Fortunately , most of my family members were away when the fire started. I tried to gather important documents but my son dragged me out. Will the government compensate us? How do we prove that we lived here?“ Sutte, like many of Damu Nagar’s older residents, had paid Rs 7,000 to the forest department which owns the land.“The department conducted a survey of Damu Nagar two decades ago and offered to relocate us to Chandivli for a one-time payment. We paid but only a few have been relocated so far,“ said Subhash Wavhal, a resident. N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forests, said families could not be shifted out of Damu Nagar as the rehab homes are yet to be made available to the forest department. Over 33,000 families had paid to be shifted out of the area, but many were yet to pay . Till date, 12,000 families from Sanjay Gandhi National Park have been rehabilitated at Chandivli. Vasudevan said they would make an estimate of the families who were eligible and affected by the blast.
“We have nothing except the clothes on our bodies. Tonight, we will live in an open ground near Lokhandwala Foundation School where the authorities will feed us. I’m worried how will I find a shelter for my family after this,“ added Shirsat.
Officials from HP Gas are conducting their own inquiry .A gas company official said had it not been for the presence of mind of some slumdwellers, who threw their LPG cylinders into an open space nearby , the casualties and extent of damage could have been higher.
(Inputs from Clara Lewis & Somit Sen)