Hazardous chemicals, closed exits and use of poor construction material — the plastic factory in Narela where a major fire broke out on Wednesday evening, had major safety issues, fire officials said.
Rescuers present at the site said that the fire, caused by a possible short-circuit, could have been controlled in 20 minutes. The operation, however, took over 24 hours only because safety measures were not followed in the building.
“We deal with such fires almost every day and it takes less than 30 minutes to control it. Here, however, no safety guideline was followed. I was inside and could see that the main pillar holding the structure was made of sand. It came crashing down when water was sprayed on it. This is what trapped the four people inside,” said a fire official, who was part of the rescue team.
The factory, which made plastic crockery, was sold to the owners in January this year and the old building was extended just two months ago.
This factory has industrial units on all three sides, which restricted access to the building and increased the chances of the fire spreading.
“I was running a factory of automobile parts and sold my factory in January. The building was reconstructed and expanded. We had clearances from fire and the police when we owned it. I don’t know how the new owners are operating it,” said Hitesh Mehandiratta, the previous owner of the building.
The industrial guidelines for fire safety say that there should be an alternative exit at the back of every factory building. Apart from this, the entrance to the terrace should also be kept open at all times so that occupants can be rescued in case of a mishap.
“Our officials had no way to exit the building. The only route for entering and leaving the structure was the main gate, which was blocked with debris. The basements also had illegal extensions and partitions constructed, which did not allow the water to reach the entire floor,” the rescue official said.
Eyewitnesses said that the fire was caused by a short-circuit but the chemicals kept inside the manufacturing unit
acted as fuel. Two LPG cylinder blasts also worsened the situation.
“If an LPG cylinder catches fire, it generally just burns and can be easily controlled. However, here since the cylinders were kept inside a burning building and there is no ventilation, it exploded. All operational industries are supposed to keep the cylinders outside their buildings but here they were kept inside,” said GC Mishra, director, Delhi Fire Services.
This is the sixth major fire reported in the area in the past five months. In May, this year, a shoe factory in the adjacent lane was also gutted in blaze.
Wednesday’s fire, however, led to one the longest running rescue operation conducted this year. Two fire officials and a labourer are still trapped in the rubble.
“Most of these factories do not renew their fire clearances. Their primary aim is maximum production and profit. They do not care if lives are put in danger in the process,” the fire official said.