Four hours after the blaze, the barely two-feet broad fire exit of Hotel Arpit Palace remained hidden behind a green shutter — as it was when two people tried to escape when the fire was raging inside.
Outside, a table-chair for a guard lay empty, and two fire extinguishers hung on the wall. Earlier in the day, after fire department officials were through with their operation, a Delhi Police search team found two charred bodies on the other side of the locked exit.
“We took a look at the emergency exits. It’s all illegal. These are very narrow, not according to specifications and they were closed at night. According to information we have, the gates are closed at night and a guard sits outside. We don’t know if the guard was there or not,” Union Minister for Tourism K J Alphons told reporters after visiting the spot.
Constructed in a 350-metre area, there are two entrances to the hotel, which is one of 215 in the area. One leads to the reception desk, the other to Crossroads Resto & Bar. “There is an elevator near the reception on the right, adjacent to a wooden spiral staircase. The electrical shaft, where the fire broke out, is opposite elevator shafts. Shafts contained electrical wiring, which melted and sustained damage,” a senior fire official said.
The National Building Code of 2005 states that the staircase should not be built around the lift area. The wooden, circular staircase, upholstery on walls, and a service area next to the shaft with pillows, bedsheets and bedding may have accelerated the blaze, officials said.
Police also said the property was in line for being auctioned. “The owner was planning to start a microbrewery in Madhya Pradesh and his loan was sanctioned after he mortgaged the hotel. But his application was rejected and they ran into losses,” an officer said. An e-auction notice seized by police showed the reserve price at Rs 27crore, officials said.