If the key to a locked collapsible gate leading to the terrace of Kolkata's Stephen Court was not missing, many lives could have been saved in the fire on Tuesday.
At least 18 people were found lying dead on the staircase leading to the rooftop.
When the fire broke out in the eight-storey building, people on the fifth, sixth and seventh floors of the heritage building rushed towards the terrace to escape death.
"However, the collapsible gate to the roof was locked and could not be opened. The keys were also not there...So people suffocated to death," said a senior fire services official standing near the ill-fated 100-year-old building on Wednesday.
After trying in vein to open the gate, the panic-stricken victims again started rushing down the stairs, but could not get far as the leaping fire below devoured them.
Eighteen charred bodies were discovered from the staircase of the sixth floor of the landmark building - given heritage status by the civic body - built by Armenian Stephen Arathoon on Kolkata's bustling Park Street in 1910.
"All the 18 could have been easily saved had they made it to the terrace.
"There was no trace of fire on the terrace...The fresh air would have made (a difference). And we could have used our skylifts and ladders to bring people down," the official added.
An employee of a telecommunication company said the staircase space was also narrow as some of the business establishments had dumped materials virtually blocking the stairs.
"Yet others had extended their doors in such a way that the staircase was blocked," he said.
Apart from that, as Fire Services Minister Pratim Chatterjee himself admitted, there was delay in bringing skylifts and hydraulic ladders kept in fire stations in various parts of the city and neighbouring Howrah.
In the absence of these equipments, trapped people desperately jumped out of the building from the higher floors, only to embrace death.
The building, which earlier housed the popular bar Trincas before it moved to another address, had the two top floors added in 1984.
Earlier, it was also the residence of the French consul general, besides housing the Central Booking Office of the Indian Railways.
At least 24 people were killed in the blaze Tuesday in the Stephen Court building in the heart of the city.
According to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation records, there were 128 business establishments and offices in the building that housed the iconic Flurys tea room and restaurant Peter Cat, besides hep eating joints like One Step Up and Cafe Coffee Day in the happening Park Street.