Victims of marketplace building fire were trapped as grille gates of building were locked

At least 20 persons, including a woman, were killed and six others injured in a major fire that broke out in a marketplace building close to the Sealdah Railway Station in the early hours of Wednesday.

The fire, reported around 3.30 a.m., broke out in the first floor of the five-storied building even as many people lay asleep inside their shops, warehouses and residential quarters. There was a lot of inflammable material stored inside.

Most of the people were trapped inside as the grille gates of the building were usually locked at night.

The fire raged for more than five hours before 26 fire-tenders brought it under control. Search and rescue operations continued as firemen began to recover the bodies of the victims.

While some of the victims died of burn injuries, most died of asphyxiation, fire-fighters said.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who visited the site of the fire, announced the setting up of a high-level inquiry committee to probe the matter. The committee will comprise senior officials of the city police, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services and the Disaster Management Group and it will submit a report in three days, Ms. Banerjee said.

Not ruling out the possibility of sabotage, Ms. Banerjee said: “Someone may be up to some mischief and light up a matchstick. There are different kinds of conspiracies being hatched at so many places. [It is] for the inquiry committee to look into it.”

She announced a compensation of Rs. 2 lakh to the families of the deceased and Rs. 50,000 to the injured.

West Bengal Governor M.K. Narayanan, who also visited the area, said the loss of life was unfortunate, but appreciated the efforts of the fire services that ensured that “the fire was contained in very quick time so that more lives were not lost.”

State Minister for Fire and Emergency Services Ahmed Javed Khan said the market was illegally constructed and action would be taken against its owners for flouting fire safety norms.