A major fire broke out at Aaram Court, the nine-storey building of leading developer Housing Development and Infrastructure Ltd (HDIL) at Bandra, around 1pm on Thursday, creating panic in the locality.
Over 100 firemen, 16 fire engines, nine water tanks and five snorkels were pressed into service and they took over five hours to bring the fire under control. However, no loss of life was reported.
While the official reason for the fire is awaited, it is believed to have been caused by a short circuit in the air conditioning system.
However, there was some confusion over where the fire originated. While chief fire officer Uday Tatkare told the media that the fire began from the lower floors, but some of his colleagues insisted that the fire had begun on the top floor and reached down through the air-conditioning wiring.
The fact that no one in the building could provide the fire brigade with a floor plan only made their task more difficult. A congested Anant Kanekar Marg, a continuous flow of commuters on the road (since the skywalk was closed) and the throng of onlookers only added to the chaos.
According to employees of HDIL and DHL, which have offices in the building, fire alarms went off at 1.05pm and they were asked to vacate the premises immediately.
“There was no panic, probably because we did not realise the intensity of the fire then. We were all brought down using the fire exits without fuss,” said an HDIL employee. However, when the fire intensified, panic mounted, as the skywalk obstructed the view and also got in the way of the fire engine’s access.
The fire has led to serious questions about Mumbai’s fire safety preparedness and brought into the focus the haphazard planning and the lack of working fire safety equipment. It also brought back memories of another one on June 18, 2009 when a major portion of the Behrampada slum facing the shiny glass and metal HDIL headquarters was ablaze. Irate slum dwellers held had protested and stoned the building’s glass facade alleging the developer’s involvement in starting the fire. A little over a year later — again on an 18th — while a crowd of the slum-dwellers watched, flames devastated the two top floors of the structure.
“The reasons are not yet ascertained...All our data and other documents are safe. HDIL will function as usual from our Kurla premises. We are doing all we possibly can to assist authorities to take stock of this unfortunate situation,” HDIL has said in an official statement.