Kamala Mills fire: Over four hours, a night without end

The blaze at the rooftop pub during a party spread rapidly through the building, trapping many inside.

Written by Express News Service | Mumbai | Updated: December 30, 2017 7:39:11 am
 Kamala Mills fire, Mumbai fire tragedy, indian express, 1 above pub and bar, mumbai fire brigade, mumbai police, BMC, Kamala mills compound The flames that engulfed the resto-pub. Nirmal Harindran

Nearly Half past Midnight: It’s the end of a relatively quiet day at work for Additional Commissioner of Police (Central region) S Jayakumar who actually left for home a little earlier than usual. Around midnight, he gets a call about a fire inside the Kamala Mills Compound. It’s one of Mumbai’s busiest and trendiest commerce and entertainment hubs, with several posh eateries and offices of prominent media houses located there. He doesn’t wait for more details on the how major the fire is, and heads to the spot in Lower Parel, not far from his home in Matunga.

12.27 am: At the BMC’s disaster control room headquarters too, it has been a relatively peaceful few hours when the night shift operator takes down the first enquiry about a fire — it’s a reporter calling, asking about a fire inside a restaurant in Kamala Mills Com-pound. By now, two fire trucks are already on their way from Worli Fire Station. Adjoining restaurants have begun evacuating guests and staff. Security guards borrow fire extinguishers from neighbouring shops to keep the fire under control until help arrives.

12.37 am: Two fire trucks arrive. There is a crowd outside the restaurant, shocked patrons who managed to escape looking for their friends and family, updating loved ones on their phones.

12.55 am: The Fire Brigade pegs it a Level 3 Fire. In seconds, eight fire engines, five jumbo tankers, two aerial ladder platforms, one turn ladder, seven ambulances and one EMS van are dispatched. The injured are herded into the ambulances, the din in the mill complex steadily growing louder — sirens, firemen shouting at bystanders, the restive crowd trying to assist. The first of the injured leave for KEM Hospital.

1.15 am: KEM hospital’s casualty ward gets the first injured patients, many with abrasions and burns ranging between 5% and 40%.

1.30 am: On the other side of the large compound, people are more or less unaware of the extent of the tragedy unfolding. Firemen are scrambling to locate a pipe for the fire hose to supplement their tankers spraying water — accompanied by security guards from the complex but with little success for a while. In fact, the hose connection with a municipal water hydrant will only be completed after another 15-20 minutes.

1:45 am: Family and friends of Khushbu Bhansali receive a call that she may have been stuck in the fire. A relative later said, “My son rushed to the spot and took other relatives to various hospitals. Khushbu was still missing.”

2 am: A policeman emerges from the area now cordoned off, a body on his shoulder. In the next 10-15 minutes, more bodies begin to be brought out, as crowds of those gathered, mainly survivors from the building who had escaped rushing to try and identify the dead. A hush goes through the crowd, onlookers suddenly beginning to realise the seriousness of the situation. Meanwhile, smoke continues to emanate from the other side of the building. Firemen park a truck on this side and prepare another ladder, trying to enter from the smoking windows. By now, there are little assemblies of gas cylinders dotting this side of the mill complex, the restaurants in the opposite buildings having been asked to remove these as a precaution.

READ | Kamala Mills fire: Pub broke civic rules and got away, suggest records

2.30 am: The firemen now look confident that the fire is under control, though an official declaration is still hours away. The crowd does not thin, more media vans and onlookers are milling around. Some firemen are still on ladders, perhaps confirming that there are no more bodies inside. A few staff members are trying to re-enter the building to bring their belongings, but they’re sent away by the police.

3 am: The final bodies and injured patients trickle into KEM Hospital. Many are declared dead on arrival and the bodies sent for a post-mortem. Only one among them, Shefali Doshi, 45, is gasping for breath. Minutes later, she succumbs to asphyxiation.

3.45 am: Civic chief Ajoy Mehta arrives, is given a quick report by fire officers at the spot. At the hospital, autopsies begin.

4.35 am: The fire has been “covered”, says the BMC fire department control room. By 4.52 am, the fire is “under control” and the operation finally declared complete by 6.20 am. A little later, at KEM’s morgue, officials start handing over bodies to family members. By 10.30 am, 12 bodies are already handed over. Around the same time, several patients seek discharge after stabilisation and visit other private hospitals.

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