A disaster was waiting to strike overcrowded Juhu galli — with its narrow lanes and residential structures on top of restaurants, garment and medical shops — and early on Thursday it did.
Around 6am, a fire, which engulfed a medical store, almost wiped out an entire family sleeping in rooms above the shop. Nine out of 12 members of the Khan family, including five children, died. The youngest victim was three-month-old Altaz Khan. Sabia Khan, 28, who was pregnant, died with 45% of burns, while on her way to the hospital. One person was injured in the incident.
Authorities said the electric meter installed in Wafa medical store, owned by the family, caught fire.
“There are several reports of electricity theft, with multiple illegal electrical wiring and meter theft in the area. Water was continuously dripping on the store’s electric meter and the illegal electric wiring might have caused the short circuit,” a source said.
Neighbours said the family made attempts to escape. But there was only one exit — a single narrow staircase through the store, which was locked.
The women and children in the family were trapped on the second floor and suffocated in the small rooms fitted with air conditioners, internal narrow staircases and no ventilation.
Only three family members escaped — Imitaz Khan, the owner of the shop, Nizammudin Khan, his brother and father Moazzam Khan. Authorities said they escaped from the first floor to the terrace on the next building with the help of neighbours.
“Within minutes, the house and the store were in flames, we tried dousing the fire with buckets of water from neighbouring houses. We saved three of the family members after we broke the roof, but it was too late for others,” said Ismail Qureshi, neighbour.
Within half an hour of the fire breaking out, residents tried to open the shop’s shutters to create an exit. But they failed because the shop was locked from the inside, forcing them to break open the temporary roof structures.
“The three men tried to enter the house to save their family members, but within minutes, flames and smoke had engulfed the entire structure. The women and children were on the second floor and could not escape,” said Noorjhan Shaikh, a neighbour and the owner’s cousin.
“The medical shop was illegal. It had no permission from the civic body’s health department and Food and Drug Administration’s approval,” said Anuradha Pednekar, Shiv Sena corporator and standing committee member.
And even though the fire broke out at 6am, three fire engines took more than half an hour to reach the spot owing to the narrow lanes and illegally parked vehicles on both sides of the roads.
“The fire was limited to the electrical wing and air conditioner on the first floor and the ground floor medical store. The internal staircases on both the floors ensured no one could run out of the house when it caught fire,” said a fire official.
A goat tied inside the structure was also rescued during the fire control operation.
Fire officials said a report into the cause of the fire would be prepared and submitted to the civic body.