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A major fire in a four-storey building in Sector 17 led to its collapse on Sunday evening, reducing property worth lakhs to rubble. Two people were killed and four injured even as the flames spread to an adjoining building late at night.
Officials claimed there were two people trapped inside and had been rescued. Additional Commissioner Sunil Bhatia said as per information, everyone had been rescued.
Those trapped were taken out late at night. They were rushed to Government Multi-Specialty Hospital, Sector 16, where they were declared dead on arrival. One of them was identified as Amandeep Singh, a fireman. His legs were stuck and one of his arms, which was being held by the other victim, was cut off during the collapse. The other victim was identified as Ravinder Kumar from 3BRD.
Among the injured firemen taken to the hospital were Raghuvir Singh, Sachin, Shekhar and Jatinder. They were administered first aid at GMSH-16. They said that they felt suffocated as the fire engulfed the building.
The fire is suspected to have started in the afternoon, but due to the location of the building and other factors, the flames could not be controlled despite the entire fire emergency services of the Tricity being pressed into service. The building, which mostly contained electronic equipment, eventually collapsed around 9 pm.
Till the filing of this report, JCB cranes were trying to clear out the rubble to find the men inside. Emergency services from the Air Force, civil defence and the neighbouring cities, and the top brass of the UT Police and administration reached the spot at night. Huge chaos prevailed throughout the evening as hundreds of passers-by gathered at the spot and the police failed to control them.
Fire officials said that they got a call at 4.50 pm about the fire in the building of National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology (NIELET) in Sector 17-B near the Madhya Marg, when a watchman noticed smoke coming out. NIELET is an autonomous scientific body run by the Central government (previously known as the Regional Computer Centre). The building was located between the Madhya Marg and the newly constructed overbridge, a few offices away from the CITCO office.
Officials said that the fire started from the basement and then went upwards. Owners of neighbouring showrooms alleged that the fire actually started around 3 pm but nobody paid much heed to it. “They have an AC plant inside the building which caught sparks around 3,” said a showroom owner.
The building had a narrow passageway towards one side, and private showrooms adjoined it on the other side. Despite six-seven fire tenders being pressed into service initially, the fire could not be controlled as there was only one approach road to the building while two tall and thick trees next to the building also posed a problem. There was no employee in the closed building as it was a Sunday and it had to be broken into from all sides.
The exact cause of the fire was still not clear, the officials said. Even as firemen broke open the doors of the building and tried to douse the fire through the adjacent building and hydraulic lifts, the fire continued to grow. The building also witnessed regular blasts of the electronic equipment present inside.
Teams from the fire and emergency services, police and defence were trying to douse the flames as this report was being filed.
Initially, four fire tenders reached the spot and around 6 pm, when the fire increased, fire tenders from Panchkula and Mohali were also called. In all, more than 14 fire tenders were trying to control the flames.
According to the officials of the fire and emergency services, the location of the building is difficult to approach. “Only one side of the building is accessible to the fire tenders to reach. We had to break a wall of the building to get inside but there was a pillar in front of it. It seems that there were certain violations in the building.”
Hundreds of computers, ACs and other electronics items along with records have been gutted and buried under the debris. The institute also maintained electric and water bills, and other recruitment records of the UT and the neighbouring states.
After 10 pm, the entire top brass of the UT Administration and the police department, including advisor to administration K K Sharma, reached the spot. The fire also worsened due to shortage of water. Even after the building collapse, the fire could not be doused due to presence of electronic equipment.