Ananya Dutta

Victims trapped as wooden staircase catches fire

KOLKATA: At least six people, including a woman, were killed and 20 others injured in a major fire in a seven-storey building on Park Street, a prominent commercial centre in the city on Tuesday. The fire, which started at about 2 p.m., raged for about three hours before it was brought under control. Forty-five fire tenders were pressed into service. Even though the thoroughfare was cleared of all traffic, firemen had a tough time negotiating the cramped streets and hordes of onlookers.

The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained. However, a preliminary examination suggests that it might have started in the lift on the fifth floor of the building, setting an area of 300 square feet ablaze. As the wooden staircase of the colonial building, Stephan Court, caught fire, several victims were trapped on the upper floors.

Furious residents alleged that the impact of the tragedy could have been contained had the fire brigade acted more promptly. “The ladders took so long to come that those who were trapped on the fifth and sixth floors just jumped onto a terrace without even a safety net,” said Guhar Ahmed, a student.

“There was no other option, so five or six of us clambered on to the terrace and caught these people in our arms as they jumped through four floors,” said a visibly shaken Ranjan Bhuiyan.

Some of the trapped people crawled out of windows onto ledges.

West Bengal Fire and Emergency Services Minister Pratim Chatterjee said: “The fire engines reached the spot promptly as they were coming from the headquarters nearby,” adding rescue was delayed by the fact that 70-metre-long ladders, which were needed, had to be brought from distant places.

Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen said 30-40 people were rescued.

Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was present at the spot, said: “I have spoken to the Defence Ministry who can send for the Army if required. I have also spoken to the Home Ministry so that the help of the Centre's Disaster Management teams can be taken.”

Governor M.K. Narayanan also visited the site.

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