Firefighters who were the first to arrive at 1Above resto-bar in Kamala Mills, minutes after it burst into flames, said a burning bamboo shed and bursting beer kegs delayed rescue efforts and people trapped in a washroom died of suffocation. Vishal Vishwasrao (36), a firefighter and station officer of Byculla fire station, was in the first team that reached the spot.
The firefighting, which went on till 6.23 am, became more challenging than expected for Vishwasrao and his team as liquor bottles stored in the pub and in an alleged illegal extension not only caught fire but also led the flames to spread rapidly.
“The bamboo shed was in flames and it fell off just when we were trying enter the place using a ladder. But we managed to get in. As we entered the 1Above restaurant, we saw beer kegs bursting one by one, restricting our entry. When we reached the other end, we found a few people who told us that there were people stuck in the washroom,” said Vishwasrao.
By the time the team could reach inside, the place was covered in thick smoke, making it difficult for the firefighters to navigate across the other side and reach the washroom. “By the time we reached the washrooms, people stuck inside had unfortunately lost their lives. It looked like they suffocated to death,” Vishwasrao said.
According to him, the fire station got the first call at 12.27 am and the first team reached the spot between 12.37 am and 12.40 am. “As soon as the team reached, it was declared a Level II fire and three fire engines and two tankers arrived. But within 20 minutes, we gave a call, upgrading the fire to Level III and asked for more fire engines and water tankers,” Vishwasrao said.
He said the presence of liquor, LPG cylinders and also the illegal extension not only made the fire spread in no time but also made firefighting and rescue operations difficult. “As part of the Mumbai Fire Brigade, I have seen firefighters taking challenges that are tougher than these. There is no option as its not just firefighting but lives to be saved and people brought to safety,” he said.
The cooling operation is almost over at Kamala Mills. “However, we have still kept one fire engine, one water tanker and one ambulance on stand-by,” Vishwasrao added. He refused to divulge more details about the cause of the blaze and how it spread across other restaurants, stating that all details shall be mentioned in the final report.