With temperatures soaring in a dry summer, the Delhi Fire Services received 3,296 calls in April and 1,428 calls so far this month, according to official figures. According to officials, what makes shanties and slums more vulnerable to fires is the fact that they have cramped “layouts”, and are difficult to reach.
Conditions in slums — such as poor wiring and MCBs; use of highly inflammable materials like tarpaulin and bamboo for construction; placement of shanties too close to each other; and the use of chulhas or locally made cylinders to cook — make them particularly prone to fast-spreading fires, officials said.
According to community architect Swati Janu, lack of financial means and any kind of housing security make slum-dwellers unable to invest in their home structures.
Many such settlements are set up in areas hard to access, along the edges of drains or in cramped spaces behind large buildings. According to Atul Garg, the Chief Fire Officer (Central and South Delhi), reaching the affected areas is a huge challenge for heavy fire tenders.
“There is rarely more than one narrow entry point, which means that even if we send multiple fire tenders, more than one cannot be used effectively. Often, fire tenders have to be parked on the main road and water has to be carried manually to the site. Another problem is the lack of water sources at the sites, which means that if a water refill is required, we have to go looking for it elsewhere. Given that a fire can destroy these settlements in 15 minutes, these delays can prove extremely costly,” said Garg.