A 37-year-old realtor, Gaurav Dhamija, died and his friend, a Frenchwoman, suffered burns after a suspected electrical short circuit set his rented house on fire in south Delhi’s Hauz Khas village early on Wednesday.
The tragedy underscored the ominous danger in Hauz Khas, one of the hippest areas in the Capital with 48 restaurants, art galleries and designer boutiques, but a congested mess of houses standing cheek by jowl.
The gap between buildings is less than two metres, and the lanes are just 60cm wide — so narrow that a scooter hardly squeezes through, let alone a fire engine.
Fire officials said it took them more than an hour to douse the flames as no fire truck could reach the house, and firefighters had to improvise with their equipment.
“Reaching the spot was a challenge. We dashed on foot to the house, carrying the bulky hoses. We attached extra pipes to our hoses to pump water from the trucks,” a firefighter said.
More than a dozen firemen climbed an adjacent house to put out the flames.
“The roads are so narrow that each time we receive a call from there, on-the-spot improvisations have to made,” fire chief GC Mishra said.
“Firefighting equipment are heavy and the men need space to operate.”
Neighbours were the first to notice the smoke and flames, and they called the nearest fire station at Bhikaji Cama Place around 5.30am. They tried to contain the fire by splashing buckets of water until the firemen arrived with three trucks.
Police said Dhamija suffered burns, but the toxic smoke killed him. His friend, 23-year-old Anklora, a second-year student of international affairs at OP Jindal University, was semi-conscious when rescuers found her.
Both were taken to Safdarjung hospital, where Dhamija was declared dead on arrival. Anklora is said to be out of danger.
Dhamija’s family took the body to his native Karnal later in the day.
“Gaurav keeps coming to Delhi for business. This is an unfortunate incident. We do not know who to blame. It is a big loss for the family,” his brother said.