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Was the Kamla Mills carnage waiting to happen?

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 29 December 2017, 15:55 IST

For hundreds of people, Friday night celebrations turned into a nightmare. A massive fire broke out at a hotel in central Mumbai where a party was on. The fire at One Above pub in the Trade Centre building on the Kamla Mills Compound in Lower Parel has claimed 15 lives so far while 16 others have been injured. The number of casualties is likely to go up.

According to Fire Brigade officials, a short circuit might have led to the fire. However, the actual cause can only be ascertained after thorough investigations. The authorities will also investigate if the firefighting system recommended by the department was in place or not.

According to preliminary information, the fire broke at One Above pub and spread to Mojo Bristo Restaurant a floor above and London Taxi, a restaurant in the adjoining building. The intensity of the fire was so high, that the offices in adjoining buildings too felt the heat.

Kamla Mills Compound houses offices of media groups such as Times Now, Mirror Now, ET Now and TV9. Broadcast of several channels were reportedly stopped due to intense heat.

The fire that broke out little after midnight on Friday was doused after four hours.

A senior fire brigade officer said the compound was highly vulnerable to such incidents. “The Kamla Mills compound was developed after the mill was shut down around a decade ago. The plot was developed in a phased manner as the mill was demolished gradually. Buildings were constructed as and when approvals from the civic body were obtained. This is the reason that there is no order in the construction. It has made the buildings vulnerable to such incidents,” the official, who did not want to be named, said.

He said the firefighting system at the building that housed One Above and Mojo Bristo Restaurants was not working.

“We inspected the building after the cooling operations. The firefighting system mandatory as per the recommendations by our department was in place, but not in a working condition. The pipes were rusted and valves broken. This is an example of poor maintenance. Though our vehicles could reach the building easily, the highly combustive construction material used at terrace hotel aggravated the problem,” the official said.

It is learnt that combustive materials like bamboo and tarpaulin was freely used in the construction of the terrace restaurant. “Burning material was falling from the terrace, adding to the problems. As a result, the fire spread to adjoining hotels as well,” the official said.

The Kamla Mills Compound is one of the busiest places in central Mumbai. With several offices, including the media houses, few lakh people visit the place every day. The restaurants and pubs at Kamla Mills are among the major attractions for youths from across the city. The pubs and hotels were full of patrons, many of them celebrating some or the other event.

Though the footfall in the premises is huge, there is apparently lack of safety infrastructure in case of such eventuality. A senior executive in private firm having its office at Kamla Mills Compound said, “Kamla Mills is a ripe place for such incidents. The disaster was waiting to happen, rampant construction, lack of basic infrastructure are real issues. And not to forget scant respect for human lives.”

According to an eyewitness, the fire broke at One Above restaurant and soon engulfed adjoining buildings.

“A burning roof fell on LPG cylinders stored at ground floor. The cylinders were immediately removed and taken to a safe place. It would have aggravated the situation, had they burst,” said a security guard on duty at Kamla Mills at the time of the fire.

“I was on duty near the building. My colleague contacted me and informed about the fire. He also said that around 200 people were trapped in the hotel. He rescued them and sent them out and I helped them get to a safe place,” another guard said.

First published: 29 December 2017, 15:55 IST