Seventeen people were killed, including seven women, in a fire that broke out at an illegal firecracker storage unit in Bawana Industrial Area of Delhi on Saturday evening. Around 50 workers were trapped inside the three-floor unit, and Delhi Fire Services said a majority of the deaths were caused by burns while a few died after inhaling toxic fumes. There was no clarity till late Saturday night on who owns the unit.
Fire officials said the fire broke out in the basement around 6.20 pm and moved up to the floors above. Chief Fire Officer Atul Garg said, “We received a call around 6.30 pm. The fire was not very big and we were able to douse it easily. We took out 17 bodies. Some people had already escaped. It was a firecracker storage factory, where they would redistribute big firecracker packets into smaller ones.”
Three bodies were reportedly found on the ground floor, and one in the basement. The others were found on the upper floors, most of them charred. “On the first floor, we found two women charred and in a tight embrace,” said a firefighter. One of those trapped inside got injured after he tried to escape the fire by jumping from the top floor and broke his legs.
The firemen said they had to be careful that the firecrackers didn’t go off while they were trying to douse the flames. Fifteen fire tenders were pressed into service. PCR vans from the local police station and 13 Cats ambulances rushed those injured to local hospitals. Family members of victims, who rushed to the spot, ran around desperately to find out where they had been taken. Baby, 35, stood outside the factory at 10.30 pm, wailing. “Two days ago, my sister Devi had started working at this factory. People told me she was inside. I don’t know if she is dead or alive,” she said.
With the local district magistrate claiming it was an illegal factory with no permits, police have lodged an FIR. North MCD Mayor Preety Aggarwal said she will “make a committe to investigate the matter”. Bawana MLA Ram Chandra said they suspected “police connivance”. “It appears the factory was operating without permission and necessary clearances, with the help of police. But an investigation is required.”
Incidentally, the firecracker fire was the third fire incident in Bawana Industrial Area Saturday. The other fires, in separate factories, didn’t result in any casualties, said police.