At least two dozen people at a central Delhi high-rise early on Monday found themselves in the way of a rapidly rising wall of fire.
Firefighters were locked in a seven-hour battle to wrest control of the blaze that was triggered apparently by short-circuit on the third floor and fuelled by flammable stuff strewn carelessly about on several floors above it.
“The fire began on the third floor before spreading to the fourth, fifth and the sixth floors -- gutting whatever came in its way,” said Ramesh Kumar, a security guard, who was among the first persons in the building to have noticed the fire.
“Initially, we thought it was a minor short-circuit and tried to use water to try and quell the resultant fire. It took us a couple of minutes to realise that the situation was already out of hand,” Ramesh added.
“After the fire-fighting effort was over, the extent of the damage became evident,” he said.
According to sources, an explosion of an LPG cylinder and the compressor of an air conditioner installed along the path of the spreading inferno had acted as fodder.
Other material, such as loose cables, plywood and adhesive boxes lying about on several floors, acted as catalysts -- so much so that water from three adjacent buildings had to be used to douse the blaze.
“As soon as the fire broke out, I assisted fire officials in breaking the windows to rescue those trapped inside. Later, we found a security guard, Jai Bhagwan Sharma, in the building. Sadly, by the time he was located, he was already dead,” said Mahesh, a house-keeping employee who was in the building.
A fire department hydraulic crane collapsed during the fire-fighting operation.