Around 250 jhuggis were gutted in a major fire that broke out in Chabbewal village on the Chandigarh road on Tuesday.
Though no one was hurt, the slumdwellers lost all their belongings and were rendered homeless.
As most of the slumdwellers were away to work, passers-by were the ones to spot the fire and sounded the fire brigade that reached the spot and managed to douse the flames after two hours.
The exact cause of the fire could not be ascertained, but it seemed to have spread from the hearth of one of the hutments.
Eyewitnesses said the fire spread quickly due to strong wind. “There were loud explosions, probably of LPG cylinder blasts, which frightened the people all the more. Children were running out of the shanties to save their lives. For an hour or so, nothing was visible due to the fire and dense smoke,” said Ram Kishan, who was sitting at a nearby shop when the fire broke out.
The slumdwellers were inconsolable. “Our cash, clothes, food, tents, beds, TV sets, inverters, solar lights, everything has been destroyed,” said Narinder.
“We are left with nothing to survive on. Luckily our daughter, who was sleeping in the jhuggi, was saved by a neighbour,” said Sharda, who was away to work at the time of the mishap.
Another victim Mukhiya revealed that most of the slumdwellers were migrants from Uttar Pardesh, who had arrived in the city around 20 years ago and worked in nearby areas.
Chabbewal MLA and jail minister Sohan Singh Thandal visited the ravaged site and asked the administration to speed up relief operation. He asked for temporary lodging arrangements to be made for the victims at the local grain market. He also promised financial help to the affected families.
Meanwhile, the district Red Cross Society and certain NGOs came forward for the rehabilitation of those rendered homeless by the fire. Tents, blankets and food had started pouring in by the evening.
“We are enlisting the affected families. They will be provided with every possible help,” said Red Cross honorary secretary Naresh Gupta. He appealed to residents to drop relief material for the victims at the Red Cross office.
However, all civil and police officials were tight-lipped about the mushrooming of the illegal colony. Villagers said a major fire had devastated the habitation 8-10 years ago, but the migrant population was allowed to set base again at the same place by the politicians and the administration.