More than 60 firefighters battled for over 20 hours to control a massive blaze that broke out in central Kolkata’s congested Bagree Market in the early hours of Sunday. Poor fire safety measures and inflammable material stashed in the five-storey building posed a serious hindrance to the operation that left two firefighters injured.
No deaths were reported, but goods estimated to be worth crores turned to ash and several shops in the market — considered one of the country’s largest wholesale hubs — were gutted, said police sources.
At the time this report was filed, firefighters were still inside the 60-year-old market building at 17, Canning Street, putting out pocket fires.
According to the police, the fire broke out at around 2.30 am on the first floor of the building, and quickly spread to the floors above. As many as 30 fire tenders were rushed to the spot within half an hour, but the narrow lanes and mesh of overhead wires made it a difficult operation. The area was also enveloped in thick, black smoke.
No one was present in the building when the fire broke out, and a few security guards who lived on the top floor were reported to have escaped in time. Disaster management and civil defence teams were also pressed into action.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that the fire minister and Kolkata police commissioner visited the spot. “I have received reports that there was no casualty and no one is trapped inside. Firefighting officials are working hard. It will be brought under control soon,” she said.
Fire Minister and Mayor of Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) Sovan Chatterjee said, “We have sent notices, held meetings with traders and businessmen pleading with them to install adequate fire fighting systems in buildings, including Bagree market. Had they listened to us, this would have been avoided.”
Sources said that the committee which overlooked fire safety in buildings and markets had held a meeting in July this year. Thirty-two buildings in the city, including Bagree Market, were found to be lacking adequate fire fighting mechanism. Despite this, a provisional NOC was issued to these buildings and markets after traders gave a written undertaking that they will set up a firefighting mechanism soon.
“It seems that they (traders) did not take lessons from previous fires… We have been telling them to set up a proper fire fighting system, but they didn’t pay heed,” said Lok Sabha MP Sudip Bandopadhyay, who visited the spot.
“We will probe the matter. Our priority right now is to control the fire,” said Chatterjee.
Jagmohan, the director general of fire services, said it would take over 24 hours to completely douse the fire. “There are highly combustible materials inside. Two of our firefighters got injured in the process,” he added.
“Bridges are caving in, buildings and markets are on fire. When will the TMC government wake up and take action?” asked Adhir Choudhury, state Congress president.
State BJP chief Dilip Ghosh said, “Why was no action taken against these buildings?”