16 injured, administrative offices on top floors gutted

Two persons were charred to death and 16 injured in a raging inferno that engulfed the top floors of the seven storied building of the state secretariat ‘Mantralay’ on Thursday afternoon, gutting most of the administrative offices there including that of the Chief Minister and deputy chief minister. Both the deceased were visitors from Baramati. Some persons are also reported to be missing.

"We have found two completely burnt bodies on the sixth floor," M V Deshmukh, Director of Maharashtra Fire Services, told The Hindu late night on Thursday. The names of the victims are: Umesh Potekar, former president of Baramati Co-operative Bank and Mahesh Gugale, vice-president of Baramati Merchant Association.

The fire started due to short circuit at 2.40 pm in an office of the higher and technical education department on the fourth floor of the main building, according to state tribal affairs minister Babanrao Pachpute. It soon spread to the fifth and sixth floor. The extension building was safe and no damage was seen to any of the floors, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said.

More than 5500 persons including employees and visitors were evacuated successfully from the building within half an hour after the fire, Mr Chavan said. The 65 trapped inside the building were rescued by the fire brigade. The 16 injured were sent to three city hospitals, and five of them were discharged after first aid.

The huge blaze which gutted three floors of the state secretariat was extinguished to a large extent late night. “Some sections on the sixth floor are still burning. The fire brigade is trying to extinguish the fire.

There are no reports of any missing persons till now. We will have to hope that nobody is trapped in,” Mr Chavan added.

The cause of the fire will be investigated by the Mumbai Crime Branch. Plumes of dark smoke billowed incessantly as 21 fire tenders, 11 tankers battled the flames, and the government called in Force One, the anti-terror force, Marine commandoes, Mumbai police commandoes and Quick Response Teams for assistance.

While Mr Chavan was out of harm’s way when the fire started, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Home Minister R. R. Patil were among the ministers in the building to be immediately hustled down the stairs to safety by security personnel.

In contrast, the common man had a more harrowing time negotiating the blaze as the afternoon wore on into a tense human drama for survival as the building threatened to turn into a fire-trap. Fire-fighters were seen mounting desperate rescue attempts using hydraulic ladders and snorkels as visitors and government functionaries trapped inside dangled precariously on the building parapets.

“We were blissfully sitting in our offices and the next thing I knew, I was climbing down the latrine pipe, clinging on to dear life” said a frazzled Aniruddha Ashtaputre, public relations officer (PRO) to the Chief Minister.

Those briefly hospitalized included the Chief Minister’s other public relations officer Satish Lalit, as well as PROs from the offices of the Deputy CM and the State Home Minister.