Even as a probe team on Sunday narrowed down the cause of the massive fire in south Mumbai to a short circuit in a mobile phone and accessories shop outside the Sara-Sahara Complex, the fire department is also investigating why it was alerted about the fire 30 minutes after it started.
"Although the final probe report is awaited, we are also inquiring why there was a delay of about 30 minutes in informing the fire brigade," said AR Patil, deputy chief fire officer. "The inquiry will take three to four days."
The probe team came to the conclusion that the fire originated in the mobile phone shop after interrogating several locals and eyewitnesses, including security guards posted outside the Sara-Sahara Complex.
This shop, officials said, was possibly an illegal wooden stall. "Prima facie, it seems to be a case of short circuit. As the wooden stall had computers within, the fire grew and spread rapidly into the Sara-Sahara compound behind it," said a fire official closely attached to the probe, on condition of anonymity.
The official said "it's too early to rule out sabotage". "But the fact remains that there are people who sleep inside the shops in Sara-Sahara as well as out on the road and it's unlikely that no one would see it if someone was trying to sabotage the place," he added.
Locals have been questioning how the fire spread from Sara-Sahara, across a 30-feet road, to Manish market, but officials offered an explanation to that.
"Flying embers of the Sara-Sahara market were aided by the direction and velocity of the wind. To this, add the principle of heat transfer," the official said. "Also, there were many wooden stalls doting the entrance of Manish Market, which made it easier for the fire to spread."
Local residents, unhappy with the fire department's response and action, are sceptical whether the probe will provide answers. Ayaz Yakub Mandviwala, a businessman who owned four shops in Manish Market and suffered a loss of about Rs 25 lakh, said: "The fire could have been controlled within Sara-Sahara itself, but fire officials were short-staffed and under-equipped so the fire kept spreading. There should be a judicial inquiry into the reasons behind the fire and the fire brigade's response to it."