None of the seven persons, including the instructor at Jo’s gym on the third floor of Prime Arcade in Secunderabad, knew about the fire when it started on the first floor on Thursday evening.

They just thought something was going wrong when smoke entered the air-conditioned hall. As the smoke became unbearable and sent up the temperature, they panicked. They rushed at once to the window and tried to open it. What happened after that was even more scary. “They were unaware of the fire, which had gutted the entire first floor where vehicle seat covers were kept. Once blazes spread to the second floor, thick clouds of smoke bellowed onto the third floor,” police said on Friday.

The moment the instructor and six others opened the window panes, smoke gushed inside, frightening them out of their wits.

Richa Nahar (21) and two others – Omer and Karan – ran up the staircase hand in hand. “For some reason, Omer suddenly wriggled out his hand from mine and hurried downstairs even as smoke choked him,” Karan told police. Richa and Karan, an intermediate second year student, reached the terrace shouting for help, but none noticed their cries. “There was no time to think of what is safe. Richa saw an adjacent two-floor building, which was just 10 to 12 feet down and jumped on to it,” Ramgopalpet Inspector A. Ganga Reddy quoted Karan as saying.

Even as a horrified Karan watched helplessly, Richa leapt from the terrace. She couldn’t cover the gap between the two buildings and fell down. Karan too wanted to follow her but dropped the plan on seeing Richa lying in a pool of blood on the ground and writhing in pain.

Meanwhile, occupants of the two-floor building nearby told him not to take any hasty step. They threw a rope to him and spread out mattresses on the terrace of the building. “Hanging onto the rope, I reached the building,” he recalled. The gym instructor and four others took the staircase route even as they fell unconscious by the time they reached the ground floor. One of them, Poorva, too jumped from the building while rushing down the staircase. She suffered multiple fractures. Her condition was stated to be critical.

Even as a horrified Karan watched helplessly, his friend Richa lept from the terrace, but she couldn’t cover the gap between the two buildings and fell down

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