Early on Monday, Shailesh Rane (27), a first-floor resident of a 100-year-old building on Lamington Road, entered the burning house of a neighbour and pulled out an LPG cylinder to prevent a larger explosion.
His courage proved to be in vain. Santosh Joshi (38), his wife Bharti (37) and their son Hrishikesh (10), who were sleeping in the loft in the room in Sharda chawl, were charred to death.
Bharti’s mother, Prabha Kulkarni (65) — who visited them often — was asleep on the floor level in the same room.
Kulkarni was the first to notice the fire, at around 1.40 am, after she smelled something burning — it turned out to be a short-circuit. After failing to wake up the rest of her family, she ran out and alerted her neighbours.
Rane was one of them. Sensing they would not be able to save the rest of the family, they pulled Kulkarni away from the leaping flames, even as she watched her family burn. The family — the couple and their son — was trapped on the loft, because the extensive thermocol lining on that level was helping the fire spread much faster than it otherwise would have.
Before anyone got a grip on the fire, and before either the fire brigade or police could arrive, the compressor in a fridge inside the room caught fire and exploded with the searing heat of the flames.
This explosion fuelled the fire, spreading it more extensively across the small room. By the time the fire brigade — which had to struggle to reach the building through the narrow lane that led to the building — got to the spot, the three victims had suffered extensive burns and died.
“We could see the fire spreading all over the Joshis’ room,” said Amit Pathanwala, a neighbour, describing how the residents swung into action, rushing to douse the fire with buckets of water.
Rane refused to speak to Hindustan Times. After the fire brigade arrived, all LPG cylinders in the building were taken out. The firemen brought out the Joshis’ charred bodies two hours after the rescue began.