At 12.51 pm on Saturday, a four-man team of Narela DSIIDC fire station, led by sub-officer Suresh, went to attend a call: that some weeds near Swami Shraddhanand College had caught fire. While returning to the fire station, he received a far more alarming call — a factory in Bawana Industrial Area was up in flames.
“Since we had enough water, I rushed to the spot,” he said. “The building was not visible due to the smoke. The flames had reached the main gate, and there were sounds of firecrackers bursting inside, like you hear during Diwali. The first thing I did was to alert the control room and say ‘make four’.” ‘Make four’ is code for a request to send at least five more fire tenders and senior officers.
A small gate meant for people to enter was open, while the main gate was closed, he said, adding that the shutter on the ground floor was only half-open, which is how some people may have escaped. The thing they spotted first on the ground floor were three fire extinguishers — and three bodies.
“The fire extinguishers were not on the wall, which could mean victims tried to douse the fire.” The team then moved to the basement, where they saw one body. “The worst was on the first floor, where there were 13 bodies, most beyond recognition.”
Most firefighters at the Narela DSIIDC said they have seen bigger fires, but none that killed so many. “It took us four days and 24 fire tenders to douse a factory fire in Narela. Here we largely controlled the fire with just two fire tenders,” he said.
Fire stations in Bawana and Narela receive at least one call every day of factory fires. Most do not have alternate fire exits, he said.
Suresh said many victims may have been blinded by explosives and the smoke, which is why they couldn’t escape.
The team said they found it surprising that not many people had used the terrace to escape. “Two people jumped off the terrace instead of hopping over to the next building. Perhaps the smoke was so much they couldn’t see the other terrace,” he said.