Flames still raging in Kolkata’s Bagree Market

Firefighters battle smoke, intense heat and lack of space in congested street

Nearly 40 hours after a massive fire engulfed the 63-year-old Bagree Market building in Central Kolkata, flames were still raging in at least three floors of the six-storied structure. On Monday fire fighters were struggling to contain the blaze due to thick smoke and intense heat. Fire engines faced difficulties in operating at the congested Canning Street in Burrabazar area, the largest wholesale trading hub in eastern India.

Near the affected building pungent smell and smoke filled the air as stocks of plastic products still burnt inside the market. Firefighters had to use gas cutters to cut open the grill on the third floor in a bid to douse the flames. Locals said the Fire Brigade’s strategy of throwing water from a building on the opposite side of the road was not successful and the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth floors are still on fire.

Even as the Fire Brigade authorities remained tight-lipped on how the fire started, local shop owners said the blaze originated from a godown on the first floor and then reached the large quantity of inflammable cosmetic products dumped on the sidewalk in front of the building.

“From there the electrical wires of the building caught fire and eventually almost the entire structure was ablaze,” said a shop owner of an adjoining building.

Locals alleged that the fire safety system at the market totally failed during the incident and held the owners and security guards of the building responsible. They claimed that initially firefighting operations were severely hampered as the security guards locked all the gates and fled from the spot.

“It took nearly an hour for the firefighters to break open the gates and by that time the blaze had intensified,” said a local shop owner.

Fire and Emergency Services Minister Sovan Chatterjee said the Fire Brigade had given many recommendations to the owners of the building. “If those recommendations had been implemented the fire would not have taken place,” he said. He also said police are investigating the matter and an FIR will be lodged against those responsible.

“What’s the point of installing fire safety equipment when there is no water stored in the building,” said Md. Javed, a shop owner whose place has been totally destroyed.

The incident has once again brought into focus the poor fire safety arrangements at several major markets in Kolkata. About 6 km from Bagree Market is Jadubabu’s Bazaar, which is also plagued by poor fire safety arrangements. Not only are several buildings there in a dilapidated condition, the place is so congested that it will be difficult for fire engines to enter. On Monday a fire broke out at the kitchen of a sweet shop in the market and two fire engines had to rush to the spot to douse the flames.

Fire safety arrangements were overhauled at Nandaram Market at Burrabazar after a major fire on January 12, 2008.

Speaking to The Hindu an owner of a major market in the city said that one of the key reasons behind lack of fire safety arrangements are disputes between the landlord and the shop owners.

“Very often such disputes lead to litigation which severely hampers overhauling of fire safety measures,” he said.

Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) officials refused to comment. “Since these are private markets and not operated by KMC I will not be able to say anything,” said Amiruddin, Mayor in Council (Market) of KMC.

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Printable version | Jun 7, 2020 12:36:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/flames-still-blazing-in-kolkata-building/article24970589.ece

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