Blaze at city mall; 300 evacuated

Fire-fighting operations continue at the Orchid City Centre Mall, Nagpada, more than 24 hours after a blaze erupted there around 9pm on Thursday, intensifying over the night.

Mumbai Fire Brigade officers had initially declared it a level one (L-1), but around 3.35am, they had adjudged it a Level Five (L-5) conflagration.

In all, 26 fire engines and 90 water tankers had been rushed to the spot in the last 24 hours and nearly 300 firefighters had been deployed to douse the blaze.

Fire officials informed, the fire had originated at a mobile accessory store at the second floor; however, the reason for the fire was unknown. However, local eyewitnesses claimed the fire broke out after a battery blast occurred inside the mall.

"The second floor was filled with smoke and we couldn't go near the shop. It was pitch dark inside and we couldn't see clearly until morning," said an officer.

For better visibility and ventilation, firefighters had to break down the glass panels of the malls.

"The entire mall is filled with flammable products like circuits, batteries and wires, which is why it has been so difficult for us to control the spread" said the official.

Five firemen had been injured during the operations till Friday evening. Two were injured in the intervening night of Thursday and Friday and another three were injured on Friday. According to sources, four of them experienced suffocation and the fifth had burnt the fingers of his right hand. They were taken to JJ Hospital nearby and released after treatment.

Local corporator Rajendra Narvankar informed that at midnight on Thursday, the tankers had ran out of water and civic officials had to activate water-filling stations on an emergency basis.

"The operation started around 9pm and the fire intensified with time. Water supply at the filling stations would not start before 4.30am and realising the situation, I had to call the BMC and get the filling station working from 11.30pm" Narvankar told The Free Press Journal.

Eyewitnesses said only when people on the second floor of the mall began rushing out did the realisation dawn that a fire had broken out.

"Around 8.30 pm, flames were first seen at a second-floor shop. We called for help and shortly thereafter, police and the fire brigade arrived at the spot," said Ganesh Purohit, who has two shops on the first and third floors of the mall.

Purohit said there were around 300 people inside the mall when the fire broke out but all of them were safely evacuated by the MFB.

"Initially, it was a small fire but within 10 minutes, the entire second and third floors were filled with smoke," said another eyewitness. Some other onlookers also blamed the fire brigade for its casual approach.

"Firemen thought that it was just a minor fire and they took it casually. Had they been more serious in their reaction, the fire wouldn't have spread in this manner," said a shop owner.

As the fire couldn't be brought under control, the MFB wouldn't allow anyone inside the mall, causing severe anxiety to the shop owners.

As a precautionary measure, firefighters had to evacuate the adjacent 55-storeyed Orchid Enclave residential towers. Both, the mall and residential building stand on the same plot, with the mall at the forefront, adjacent to the main road, while the building is in the rear. Nearly 3,500 people living in the towers had to leave their homes in the middle of the night on Thursday.

Residents of the building said smoke began entering their rooms, causing them to feel suffocated. The fire also damaged the boundary wall of the building.

One of the residents of the high-rise is Samajwadi Party MLA and corporator, Rais Shaikh.

"Around 10pm, there was panic inside the building, the whole apartment was filled with smoke and one could barely see," Shaikh recalled.

"People living on the first seven floors voluntarily started to evacuate as their homes were engulfed with smoke and many had trouble breathing," said a resident.

"We rushed out of the building, the electricity supply was switched off and many of us did not even get time to pack necessities and spent the whole night outside," said another resident, Dinesh Mohite.

Some residents also said that they had objected to sharing the premises with a mall.

Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar visited the spot on Thursday night. On Friday, local MLA Amin Patel and BJP MLA and Mumbai party chief Mangal Prabhat Lodha visited the spot.

"I went inside with the firefighters and saw that nearly 70 per cent of the mall is damaged now. The podium of the adjacent building and parts of the boundary wall are also damaged. It appears that the building can collapse anytime," Patel said. Lodha was present at the site throughout the night and monitored the operation.

"Shop owners and residents had pointed out certain discrepancies regarding the property and I will raise these issues once the situation is stable," he told The FPJ.

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