Mumbai: A massive fire broke out in a scrap godown in Mankhurd on Friday, around 2.45pm. According to the fire brigade, the fire, which originated from the scrapyard, rapidly spread to the slums in the vicinity.
“The slum area is close to an industrial estate, with plastic and chemical waste being dumped in the drains regularly, which caused the fire to spread rapidly,” said a fire officer.
Heavy smoke proved a deterrent to the firefighters as their vision was affected. The Mumbai Fire Brigade (MFB) had to rush 13 fire engines and 11 jumbo water tankers at the spot to battle the level-3 blaze. One ambulance was also kept on standby. It was brought under control around 8pm and it was another 30 minutes before it was doused.
During the fire-fighting operation, a firefighter was injured. The officer has been identified as Harish Nadkar, 40, was rushed to the Shatabdi Hospital. According to sources in the fire department, his condition was stable.
Although there were no casualties, at least a hundred huts were gutted in the fire, the fire brigade said. Apart from this, several slumdwellers lost their belongings. Some residents had already packed their bags, ready to leave after the fire broke out.
“Every year, a fire breaks out here but this time, it was a huge fire and the entire area was filled with smoke,” said Ali Asgar, a resident.
Most slumdwellers were migrant labourers who had returned to Mumbai from their hometowns, as the pandemic lockdown restrictions were gradually eased.
“All our belongings have been gutted in the fire and we have nothing left,” said a distraught resident, Mohammad Shoaib.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) have set up temporary camps for those affected.
A social activist, Bilal Khan, has also arranged shelter and food for the evacuated labourers.
“The shelter arranged by the BMC is far away and so many people are still on the streets, so we have provided them with food and temporary shelter,” Khan told The Free Press Journal.
“The slums are in a congested area and all the manufacturing units nearby are illegal,” he added.
Mankhurd MLA and leader of Samajwadi Party (SP) Abu Azmi said, the area where the fire took place was full of encroachers who had illegally taken over nearly 15 acres of land. Azmi said the encroachers had set up illegal manufacturing units of soaps and petrochemicals in the slums, due to which barrels of petrol, glycerine and other flammable chemicals were being stored in the shanties.
“I have been requesting the state government to evict the encroachers for more than five years now. Last month also I met some state ministers, but the government is yet to take a stand,” Azmi told the FPJ.
“The land has been given to the residents on a temporary lease basis. Their lease expired at least ten years ago but they continue to reside on this land,” Azmi added.
Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar visited the spot, along with Deputy Mayor Suhas Wadkar.
Pednekar said, the local M east ward office had been notified about the illegal storage of oil and petrochemicals in this area.
“Earlier, the collector, jointly with BMC and police, has taken action against the local land mafia several times, but time after time, the latter become active again and set up illegal bases in this area,” said Pednekar.
Pednekar further said that the accident on Friday was always in the making and the administration would deal severely with the land mafia.
The fire also caused heavy congestion on Eastern Freeway near Chheda Nagar and on the Santacruz-Chembur Link Road. According to a traffic police officer, diversions were put in place between 3pm and 6.30pm on Friday. Traffic police were deployed to clear the congestion.