Gorton Castle, the 110-year-old colonial Shimla landmark that housed the Himachal Pradesh Accountant General’s (AG) office, was gutted in a devastating fire that broke out early on Tuesday morning.
The blaze, which started around 3 am, spread through the sprawling four-storey complex reducing the top two floors of the main complex into ashes. There was, however, no human loss or injury. Preliminary reports have not ruled out human error as the cause of the fire; there are also suspicions that a short-circuit may have caused the blaze. Authorities say the wood panelling and use of paint, prone to aiding fire, aggravated the situation.
The fire was first noticed by a chowkidar of a nearby hotel, who immediately alerted the city’s fire department. By the time fire tenders reached the site, the blaze had already engulfed the building’s main audit wing and its top two floors. The flames were even visible from the neighbouring town of Solan.
DGP (home guards and fire services) I D Bhandari said a dozen fire tenders were pressed into service from Shimla, Solan and Theog with the Army pitching in to control the blaze. With several vehicles parked around the building, fire personnel found it difficult to get close and douse the blaze. It was finally brought under control by 10.30 am.
Among the hundreds of Shimla citizens who watched Gorton Castle being reduced to ashes was Principal Accountant General Satish Loomba. He reached the spot by 4 am and watched as firemen worked to douse the flames and his staff attempted to retrieve records. The DGP chose the occasion to deliver a sobering message. “We have been circulating guidelines to government offices to remain extra alert during the winters. Again, we reiterate those instructions,” Bhandari said.
The two upper floors, that have been destroyed, had wood panelling while the lower floors were composed of fine stone and steel. The short-circuit theory draws strength from the fact that despite central heating in place for the nearly 1,000 employees at the AG office, staff are known to use electric heaters during the winter. Authorities will now investigate if a heater had been left on after duty hours.