More than 20 people, most of them women, were injured on Tuesday afternoon when fire broke out on the top floor of Safal Pegasus, a nine-storey commercial building in Prahladnagar area of Ahmedabad.
Interestingly, it was not the fire that caused injuries. All the people injured in the incident had become victims of panic which gripped those inside when thick smoke began to billow from the building. Eyewitnesses said that there were around 500 people in Safal Pegasus at around 2:30 pm when smoke was seen coming out of it.
The smoke was so thick that people inside thought that a big fire had broken out somewhere in the structure. The thick smoke made it difficult for people inside to use the stairs or the emergency exit.
Around 30 panic-stricken people jumped from the third floor on to the terrace of the first floor. Many were injured and a few will have to undergo surgery for treatment of orthopedic injuries. The panic was so intense that people in the building were heard shouting, "If you want to live, you must jump. Don’t use the stairs as there is too much smoke".
No one had the courage to use the anti-fire equipment until private security personnel of the building arrived. Many of those taken to hospital had become breathless.
Meanwhile, someone had informed the fire department and fire-fighting vehicles arrived immediately. As many as 14 fire-fighting vehicles were involved in a nearly 2-hour operation to get the panic-stricken people out of the building.
Sandip Dharak, an employee of the IT company Gited Intuz whose offices are located on the third floor of the building, was one of the people who jumped to escape the fire.
Talking to DNA, he said that the smoke was so thick that they thought jumping off the building was the only way to escape death.
“Our office has a narrow opening through a window. People from other offices on the floor began to gather in our office and, one by one, we jumped from there,” Dharak said.
Hiral Rana, a victim who fractured her leg, will have to undergo surgery. Talking to DNA, Rana said that there was too much smoke, so much so that no one was able to see the stairs. “We thought there was a big fire and so we jumped,” she said.
“Whenever people panic, their emotions start controlling their thought process and they are not in a position to think. They eventually end up believing anything that is told to them. If someone tells them to jump off to survive, they would do that without thinking twice.”
—Dr Ashwin Jansari, head, department of psychology
“The situation became extremely tense. We found no other way but to jump off. Many people even pushed me aside and started jumping. Eventually, I too decided to jump.”
“I wonder why they have not constructed an alternate exit stairs. They have put emergency elevator in line with stairs, which is useless in such cases, when the stairs are engulfed in fire and smoke. They even blocked the windows with a thick grill, which made it difficult for us to escape”
—Rajesh Mistry, employee
“It was too late for us to escape. Smoke had reached our office. With no exit, we got stuck in darkness. After half-an-hour, a fireman came with a torch and took us to ground floor by the stairs. With the lights off, the stairs were absolutely dark even during the day.”
—Dhananjay Upadhyay, employee