Two minor boys were killed and six suffered burns in a major fire in which hundreds of shanties were gutted at a resettlement colony in Bawana here on Friday afternoon. The incident triggered a violent protest by angry residents in which four firemen were injured.
While an inquiry has been initiated under the area Sub-Divisional Magistrate to ascertain the exact cause of fire, locals said it was as a result of a cylinder blast around 1-30 p.m. that one of the houses caught fire and it soon engulfed the surrounding dwellings. “Most of the adult members of the families were away at work when the fire broke out. We raised an alarm after we noticed smoke and fire in the adjoining jhuggis. We ran for our safety, some of the residents were trapped in the fire,” said Mohammad Naushad.
As the fire spread, inflammable material like wood stocked in the shanties and small five-kg cooking gas cylinders used in most of the households aggravated the situation.
One of the residents called up the Delhi Fire Department at 1-35 p.m., following which 20 fire tenders were pressed into service. The firemen deployed at the spot said fire tenders could not reach all parts of the colony as there were virtually no approach roads. “The fire tenders had to be parked at a distance,” said one of them.
However, the locals alleged that the response from the fire department itself was delayed and inadequate. “They could have saved time by stationing the vehicle along the main road over the Bawana canal and sprayed water from there instead,” said Raju while trying to search for undamaged articles in the rubble that his house was reduced to in the fire.
While the fire-fighting operation was under way, the rescue teams pulled out the victims and rushed them to a nearby hospital where two of them, later identified as Sartaj (5) and Manish (4), were declared dead. They had sustained serious burn injuries, said their family members.
Rashida, a daily-wager who found out about the fire upon her return from a construction site, said: “We have nothing to wear or eat now. Everything has been burnt down. Appliances such as television or the set-top box we had got installed recently were priced possessions for us. What is gone is gone, but I am grateful that my children were not in the house when the fire broke out. They are back in my village.”
Angry over the incident, some locals staged a protest and clashed with firemen at work. However, the situation was soon brought under control by the local police. Apprehending further trouble, a large number of security personnel were deployed in the area.
As a cylinder blast emerged as a likely cause of the fire, some victims blamed their neighbours for allowing their children to ‘fiddle with fire’ while cooking. “We are ruined just because someone was too careless to let their children cook without adult supervision,” said Azmati, who added that the practice was in vogue in the slum cluster as most adults in the locality are engaged in jobs.
Locals said the situation could have been worse if it was any other time of the day. While the children go to the nearby municipal schools, some residents were at work or were in a nearby mosque for Friday prayers.
Senior police and administrative officers also visited the spot to take stock of the situation. Several leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party such as Manish Sisodia and Gopal Rai were also there along with the party workers to extend help to the victims.