Panic gripped one of the city's busiest railway stations at peak hour on Friday when a major fire broke out in the Central Railway's new administrative building, which is a stone's throw from platform 1 of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST).
While 20 women and 10 men were rescued from the building, no injuries or casualties were reported since its offices were more or less empty. According to a preliminary inquiry, the cause of the fire was a short circuit in the office of the Container Corporation of India (ConCor), a subsidiary of the Indian Railways.
At around 5.15 pm, commuters waiting for trains at the station noticed smoke billowing from the fifth floor of the six-storied building adjacent to DN road.
With the winds stoking them, the flames spread across the entire floor in no time, and the building was enveloped in thick black smoke as commuters began to panic. Fortunately, the fire was restricted to the fifth floor.
"We received a call at around 5.32 pm. Our men immediately swung into action to extinguish the fire from the DN Road side of the building. It took us time to douse the fire as the winds began stoking the fire again at around 6.30 pm. The presence of combustible materials like wood inside the building also aggravated it," a fire official said.
The rescue effort lasted about two and a half hours.
A witness said, "There was a spark in the cables which led to the fire. Sensing danger, those present on the floor immediately ran away. One person was rescued by the fire brigade later. Luckily, the fire did not spread to the sixth floor where the Nirman Bhavan (construction department) office is located."
Meanwhile, additional commissioner of police (south region), Krishna Prakash, visited the spot to assess the situation. "The cause of the fire is not known to us yet. We suspect it was because of a short circuit. We will know the exact reason soon. There were no reports of any injuries as the offices were nearly empty at the time of the incident," said Prakash.
Resources used in rescue
8 fire engines (3 from Naval dockyard)
8 jumbo tankers
4 fire officials
1 command post
1 ambulance (Nair hospital)
Traffic blocked, onlookers hindered rescue
While the police had blocked DN Road lane near the BMC headquarters leading to the JJ flyover, jostling onlookers hindered the rescue operation to some extent. The police also blocked the walkway near Anjuman Islam high school approaching CST above the DN Road. One lane of the stretch was opened at around 7 pm after the fire was brought under control.
Even though smoke were billowing out of windows of the more than 20-year-old building, fire fighters engaged in the rescue operation were not wearing masks.
Papers safe, documented digitally
According to railway officials present at the spot, damage to property will be ascertained in a day or two. However, important documents were safe since the ConCor had preserved them digitally.