A portion of the iconic Russell Market, which was part of the growth of Bangalore's Cantonment area, was ravaged in a major fire that broke out in the vegetable section in the early hours of Saturday.
The Russell Market Traders' Association said the inferno consumed 174 shops in the 85-year-old structure, one of the famed landmarks in Shivajinagar.
According to Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) officials, 123 shops were gutted resulting in a loss of Rs. 1.2 crore.
The fire, believed to have been caused by an electrical short circuit on the ground floor around 3.30 a.m., lasted till 7 a.m. Fortunately, there was no loss of life. The vegetable, fruit and flower market on the ground and first floors, as well as the line of toy and knick-knack stores near the entrance were completely destroyed.
The fire was noticed by helpers who slept in the shops. As the flames spread, they fled the market and alerted the police. Sagayanathan, who was sleeping in his shop on the first floor of the complex, said that around 3.30 a.m., there was a fluctuation in the power supply. “Soon, there was smoke all around, and an overwhelming stench. We ran outside to find that one side of the market was ablaze,” he said.
Twenty-eight fire tenders fought the blaze. Authorities at the scene said the fire was probably sparked by an electrical short circuit.
B.G. Chengappa, Director of the Karnataka State Fire and Emergency Services, said, “The place had no safety arrangements of any sort. All the shops were tightly packed together, with not even a single extinguisher for the entire complex.”
Over 2,000 people work in the 480 shops in the two-acre market complex, which is visited by one lakh people on an average daily, said Mohammed Idreez, general secretary of the traders' association.
In the slurry of ash, half-burnt vegetables and ruined furniture lies 65-year-old Mustaq Sharief's livelihood for more than half a century. “The shop was set up by my grandfather when the market was commissioned. I have been here since my childhood. We lost goods worth over Rs. 80,000,” he said.
Like Mr. Sharief, most traders in the market had inherited the business. Sundar Raj, who owns a toy store there, said the nearly 90-year-old business now faces an uncertain future. “I lost goods worth over Rs. 2.5 lakh in the fire. Being a disabled person, this is the only trade I know,” he said.
With the roof showing signs of caving in, and steel girders and columns, some of them wilted in the heat of the blaze, exposed, BBMP engineers who inspected the structure said the complex would take at least two years to rebuild.
Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda, who inspected the market in the evening, announced a compensation of Rs. 50,000 for the affected traders. “Additional compensation will be given from the Chief Minister's Relief Fund after the damage is assessed,” he promised.
On the reconstruction of the building, he said the façade would remain unchanged. “As it is a heritage building, all care will be taken to preserve the exterior. And, till the market is restored, the traders will be temporarily rehabilitated.”