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Blaze like no other: Mumbai reels from the effects of a garbage dump fire

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:33 IST

Incidents of fire breaking out at garbage dumping sites are not rare.

In fact, Mumbaikars are used to frequent fires at Deonar and Mulund dumping grounds, where thousands of metric tonnes of garbage from across the metropolis are dumped every day. Huge quantities of methane gas that is generated under the heap of garbage, emanates and catches fire almost every day. The civic staff posted at these dumping grounds are always on vigil and immediately take action to douse it.

Read: Mumbai schools shut as city battles thick smog for 5th consecutive day

But the fire that broke at Deonar dumping ground site on 27 January 2016 was different from those in the past.

While earlier fires were doused within a few hours without much hassle, this recent burst took three days to be brought under control. The staff imagined this was just another fire and reacted in regular fashion. Their efforts were futile and smoke continued to billow from the large heaps of garbage.

In no time, the smoke engulfed the neighbouring areas and continued to grow in intensity. It soon spread to South Mumbai, about 20 kilometres away from the Deonar dumping ground.

Despite the smoke thickening, the civic administration did not take cognisance till the smoke reached places like Nariman Point and Colaba. Event then, it was initially mistaken for fog. Offices and residential areas started suffering due to smoke, and it was then that the local authorities finally jumped to action.

The situation had gotten so bad that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis summoned the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) Chief Ajoy Mehta, and took stock of the situation. There was even a tweet that went out about action being taken to control the fire.

Mumbai matched Delhi's pollution levels thanks to a fire at a garbage dumping site.

The CM has ordered an official inquiry. According to preliminary information, the fire might have been caused by two minor boys, who set some cloth on fire at the dumping ground site. A case has been registered against unidentified persons in this regard.

The civic administration said the fire would be contained soon. It took three full days. The civic authorities struggled to douse the fire for over 72 hours. A team of 21 officers and 132 fire engines were pressed into action.

Mumbai continues to suffer

Heavy smoke mixed with other pollutants are still present in the air and are affecting people in the city. About 70 government schools remained shut on Monday as smog continued to engulf the city.

"Initially we thought it was fog, since the temperatures were very low for some days. But as the day progressed, people started suffering from cough, irritation in the eyes and throat. When I went out in the afternoon, the entire area was enveloped in thick smoke. It was then that I realised the gravity of the situation and rushed to get masks for my family," said Karim Khan, resident of Govandi.

Also read- A Charred Future: the graphic aftermath of Mumbai's horrific Kandivali fire

Another resident Shakeer Abbas, said his family suffered breathing problems due to smoke. "My 10-year-old son had to be rushed to hospital since he could not breathe properly. It was only after the treatment at the hospital, he could breathe easily."

According to Karim Khan, the smoke was so thick that he couldn't see the neighbouring building. "We were forced to close all the doors and windows. When I tried to look out, the only thing I could see was thick smoke," Khan said.

mumbai smog embed

Photo: Kunal Patil/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images

According to health minister Dr Deepak Savant, it is possible that there are poisonous elements in the smoke, which may have caused health problems.

Due to the heavy smoke, the Air Quality Index (AQI) of Mumbai was at an alarming 341, as per the information from System of Air-quality-weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR).

An official inquiry has been ordered into the fire. Two young boys may have started it all.

This dangerous AQI continued for two days. "This is the worst pollution level recorded in Mumbai in recent past. The AQI is equivalent to that of New Delhi," said a senior scientist at Mumbai Met Department.

The cooling operations at the dumping ground began on Sunday. "Though the fire is now under control, the cooling operations will continue for three days," said Prabhat Rahangdale, Chief fire officer, MCGM.

The political fire burns

After the fire was contained, political blame game began as expected.

Local corporator and Samajwadi Party leader Rais Sheikh, alleged that the gross mismanagement of the dumping site was the root cause of all the problems. "The authorities concerned are ignoring the basic management at the dumping ground. The innocent people living in the neighbourhood and also in South Mumbai had to pay the price of negligence of few incompetent officials," Sheikh said.

BJP member of Parliament Kirit Somaiya has even filed a police complaint alleging an officials-contractor nexus. "The officials in-charge of Deonar dumping ground must be penalised for the blunder. The incident is the result of the gross negligence and incompetence of the officials. The civic administration must take stern action against all those responsible. "

Edited by Anna Verghese

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First published: 2 February 2016, 7:04 IST