Hundreds of commuters had a close shave after a fire broke out due to a gas cylinder blast at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) during the evening peak hour on Thursday. Nearly 30 cylinders were stored close by and it could have been catastrophic for commuters and the World Heritage Site if they had exploded.
The fire, which broke out at 4.30pm, gutted the Central Railway Employees’ Cooperative Society situated diagonally opposite the suburban ticket counter within minutes.
This was the second fire in 15 months. The last time, too, there were no casualties but the divisional railway manager’s office was badly damaged.
Railway officials said they suspect there were two cylinders right next to the one that exploded on Thursday.
Right next door is the railway employees’ canteen, where nearly 30 cylinders were stored.
“It was a clear violation of rules; the railways have banned cylinders inside their premises. Disaster could have struck, hundreds could have died if other cylinders had caught fire,” said Subhash Gupta, member, Railway Accident Monitoring Committee and Zonal Railway Users Consultative Committee. Gupta was at CST, close to where the incident occurred.
Many pointed out that while the railways have banned gas cylinders on platforms, they are allowed inside shops on stations and in their headquarters.
As smoke billowed out of the store and the fire spread, some people began shifting the cylinders from the canteen to an alley outside. Railway employees, meanwhile, began evacuating the canteen.
There was chaos as half the pedestrian space at the CST entrance was blocked. To add to the confusion, power supply to the indicators and lights was shut to avoid short-circuits.
By 4.25pm, six fire engines and tankers reached the spot. The concourse was cordoned off and the fire doused.
The fire brigade extricated four cylinders from the store and canteen, which too was charred by then.
“Most of the smaller shops don’t have fire safety certificates,” said a fire official on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
The firemen sprayed water on the site for an hour as smoke was still billowing out.
Back-up generators were then used to switch on the indicators.
The indicators were switched off again at 5.30pm as the firemen wanted to remove the store and canteen’s tin roof.
Even the platforms didn’t have power during this period.
“We have nominated three officials from the electrical, security and personnel departments to investigate the matter and submit a report,” said Central Railway’s chief public relations officer Vidyadhar Malegaonkar.