At least one person was killed and nearly 2,000 people were rendered homeless in a fire, which broke out in a slum, Basanti Colony, in the north-eastern part of the city and raged for four hours on Tuesday afternoon razing 450 shanties.

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee visited the site and gave instructions for providing shelter and cooked and dry food and medicines to the affected families.

The situation was made worse as fire engines and vehicles of emergency services took a long time to reach the site since they were held up in several road blockades put up by some political parties and their allied trade unions since afternoon. While initially only three engines could reach the spot, later 22 more joined in to control the fire.

Even as emergency services were held up at the road blockades, the fire spread to a platform of the nearby Bidhannagar Road station although it was brought under control quickly. An Eastern Railway release said 12 pairs of EMU trains had to be cancelled and a long distance train was controlled short of the Bidhannagar Road Station as the affected people rushed to the platform to save themselves and their meagre belongings.

Water shortage in the area further hindered the firemen, who brought the fire under control about two hours after it was first reported.

Confusion reigned in the area as residents desperately tried to trace their loved ones. Anxious mothers, unsure of their children’s whereabouts, jostled through the crowds.

Once the fire was brought under control, some residents rushed to their ravaged shanties, with the embers still simmering, to locate family members or salvage remnants of the fire.

The Chief Minister instructed the Police Commissioner to set up shelters for the homeless on the open grounds of a government housing complex in the vicinity. He told the Mayor to organise medicine and cooked and dry food.

Even though arrangements for food, clothes, blankets and tarpaulin sheets were made for the nearly 450 families rendered homeless, they will have to brave the cold winter nights.

“The fire was probably caused by an electric short-circuit, which quickly spread through the neighbourhood as several gas cylinders exploded in the homes. A breeze also aided the fire to spread rapidly,” said Gopal Krishna Bhattacharya, Director-General of Fire Services.