It was a split second decision that ensured Lokesh Parekh, among the many patrons dining at 1Above, a second floor rooftop restaurant in Kamala Mills, was not trapped inside the burning restaurant. He dashed to the exit staircase straight from the washroom instead of waiting inside.
Parekh’s brother-in-law, Prateek Thakur, currently undergoing treatment at Bhatia Hospital, said a group of eight family members were dining at the restaurant when the fire broke out, shortly after midnight. “I am 99 per cent sure the fire was caused by hookah. I started screaming out to everyone to rush out when I realised that the fire will spread within minutes through the tarpaulin shed,” Thakur (28), a Dadar resident, said. He said Parekh, along with the restaurant’s disc jockey, escaped unscathed even as several suffocated inside the washroom where they had taken shelter in the hope of escaping the flames.
“People were drunk. They had no sense of how to run outside,” Thakur said. He recounts jumping over 10-15 people to make his way out. Thakur, however, rushed back in to find his wife Toral. “When I went inside, my hands got burnt. My wife’s cousin Mayank got hold of me and we rushed outside. That is when I saw my wife.”
Toral (29) claims there was no fire escape route in the building. “The exit was narrow, which created more panic and chaos,” she said. The entire open sitting area was covered by a tarpaulin shed that quickly spread the flames to the adjoining pubs. Those inside said sparks from hookahs and the breeze are suspected to have lit up the inflammable tarpaulin shed.
Parekh first hid in the washroom in a corridor towards the left of the restaurant’s exit where he found himself stuck with few others. “A security guard was inside the washroom and he asked those inside not to open the door. He kept saying the fire will spread inside. The DJ, thankfully, decided against it and they all rushed out,” Thakur said. Ten minutes after Parekh came out, the entire roof collapsed.
Like them, San-Francisco based Anand Paka managed to escape through the kitchen stairwell with gynaecologist friend Dr Sulbha Arora. Paka was visiting Mumbai for two days. They had decided to eat in the Kamala Mills compound. “I was sitting near the bar counter. I saw a small flame rapidly spread through the overhead tarpaulin covered roof,” Arora said.
She added that she fell to the ground in the chaos and several people jumped over her towards the exit. “My friend helped me get up. A staffer suggested we rush through the kitchen exit,” Arora said. The kitchen exit was wide enough to allow people to escape quickly unlike the narrow main exit of 1Above near which the crowd bunched up as many were not sure they should take an elevator in such a situation.
“All tables were occupied in the restaurant,” Arora said. Those who survived estimated at least 100-150 people were inside 1Above on Thursday night. “I saw several women running towards the washroom hoping that they would escape the fire. Most remained trapped inside,” Arora said. “It’s a miracle I survived. The staffers were helpful in directing us and the security guards kept showing everyone the way outside the building.”
Siddharth Shroff (27), who sustained 20 per cent burn injuries when his shirt caught fire, remains admitted to Bhatia Hospital after he asked for a transfer from KEM Hospital on Friday morning. His two cousins had come down from the US and the family, a group of eight, decided to dine out.
“It was a stampede-like situation. Everyone was running towards the exit,” he said, adding that he wanted to jump from the upper floor but could not. His cousin, Amit Shah, sustained over 30 per cent burns. Two other cousins, Utsav (26) and Deep Shroff (31), managed to escape from the second floor restaurant but sustained minor burn injuries. “We were farther away from the spot where the fire started, which gave us time to escape,” Siddharth said.