THREE floors of the Maharashtra state secretariat building in Mumbais Nariman Point were entirely gutted in a major fire that broke out around 2.40 pm on Thursday. Over 5,000 employees and visitors were evacuated from building over two hours. Eleven people were admitted in hospital with injuries,only of whom is serious.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan,his deputy Ajit Pawar and several other ministers and bureaucrats were among those evacuated. Fire officers and government officials could not immediately confirm the cause of the fire.
The fire broke out on the fourth floor and spread rapidly through piles of files and papers and the extensive woodwork in the office cabins. The fourth floor houses the urban development and energy departments,besides offices of some ministers.
At 6 pm,after three hours of fire-fighting,tongues of fire were seen in the rear offices. The blaze was finally put out at around 7.15 pm. A total of 21 fire engines,five ambulances and ten jumbo fire tankers of 10,000 l capacity were used.
While most employees and visitors ran out to safety within the first 20 minutes,12 people were injured during the rescue,including 45-year-old Hemant Karekar,who is in ICU with severe damage to the respiratory system. Two others suffered 10-15 per cent burns but are stable.
Praveen Pardeshi,principal secretary (relief and rehabilitation department),said the fire brigade began operations around 3 pm. There were about 2,500 to 3,000 employees and 2,000-3,000 visitors inside the building. Some 65 people trapped on the fifth and sixth floors had to be brought down by firemen, Pardeshi said.
While investigations into the cause of the fire were ongoing,initial reports suggested it began after an electrical short circuit in the server room located between the offices of NCP minister Babanrao Pachpute and Suresh Kakani,deputy secretary of the state urban development department.
As smoke started entering my chamber,I ran out and tried to douse the fire using the fire extinguisher. Around 2.40 pm,the electricity was switched off. There was thick smoke everywhere,and I had to go back to my cabin to catch my breath. We navigated our way down the stairs by the light from our mobile phones, Pachpute said.
Pardeshi said parked vehicles and the crowd delayed the beginning of firefighting operations. It took a while to clear the huge crowd and vehicles around Mantralaya. The firemen also took a while to position themselves.
Besides Pachputes office,the offices of Minister of State for Housing Sachin Ahir and principal secretaries (Urban Development) T C Benjamin and Manu Kumar Srivastava all on the fourth floor were completely destroyed. The chief ministers office and deputy chief ministers office on the sixth floor too were almost completely charred,along with that of Industries Minister Narayan Rane.
Fanned by the sea breeze,the fire quickly spread to the fifth,six and seventh floors. People were seen running to the terrace and sitting on the parapet to escape the thick smoke while waiting to rescued by fire brigade snorkels.
The CMs public relations officer Aniruddha Ashtaputre said the PROs of various departments were meeting with Deputy CM Pawar when the police arrived and ushered Pawar out. As the officers waited to know what had happened,smoke started entering the room,and they escaped out of a window and slid down a pipe.
One Sea King helicopter and a Chetak from the Navy were pressed into service,alongside 30 Naval firefighting personnel,but the choppers returned as people on the terrace had already been rescued. Breathing sets and other gear from the Coast Guard were also deployed. A contingent of the Force One and Quick Response Team of the Mumbai Police were kept on standby.