A day after a major fire ravaged 72 houses at Kotla village under Banjar sub-division of Kullu district, the locals lamented that had the village been connected by road, fire tenders could have averted the widespread loss.
The victims, who spent the chilly night in the open, having lost their homes, rued fire tenders could not proceed further than 2km from the nearest town, Bali Chauki, as the only route to the village from the town was narrow and rugged.
A villager, Chamelu Devi, 80, was home with her granddaughter, busy in household chores, when she heard the shrieks of her neighbours. “As we rushed out to make sense of things, our house, too, caught fire after a gas cylinder blast in the adjoining house,” she said.
Over the next few hours, she and her granddaughter watched villagers frantically trying to douse the fire using whatever they could find, as there was no hope of fire tenders reaching the scene.
“I lost everything in the fire. Nothing could be saved as the high and rapid flames engulfed the entire village in no time,” an inconsolable Devi said, adding her sons were away for a religious function when tragedy struck.
Another villager, Neerat Singh Negi, said he, too, was away for the religious function at Bali Chauki, when he got information about the incident.
As he rushed back home, half of the village had already turned into ashes, and the air was filled with the cries of villagers, with smoke and flames all around.
On Monday morning, women and children were seen wailing in a nearby field, where the administration has set up temporary camps for them, while others sifted through what remained of their houses to find any salvage.
According to villagers, property worth crores was gutted in the fire, leaving next to nothing. Their only hope now is assistance from the state government for their rehabilitation.
Fire claims lives of 40 livestock
While there was no loss of human life, as many as 40 livestock, including cattle, goats and sheep, were killed in the Sunday fire at Kotla village.
Besides, the ancient temple of local deity, Bara Chhmahun, and its several gold and silver ornaments, said to have a total value of about Rs 1 crore, were destroyed in the fire. Three other temples of various deities, worth lakhs, were also turned to ashes.
As soon as the district administration was informed about the incident, it swung into action and Banjar sub-divisional magistrate Ashwani Sharma, along with his team, rushed to spot to review the situation.
However, lack of infrastructure left the administration a mute spectator, as fire tenders could not reach the spot and it took the disaster management authority hours to reach the village, when it was too late.
Govt announces Rs 1.5 crore relief
Kullu deputy commissioner Rakesh Kanwar, who reached the village around midnight, as he was in Shimla for a meeting, said the state government had approved Rs 1.5 crore as immediate relief to the affected families. Besides, Rotary Club, Kullu, had also announced to give Rs 1 lakh as relief to the victims, he said, adding that Rs 30,000 had been disbursed to each family as immediate relief.
State Ayurveda minister and Banjar MLA Karan Singh, who visited the scene on Monday, met the aggrieved families and assured them of every possible help.
The minister said food material enough to last a month would be provided to the affected families. Besides, temporary shelters would be erected for their stay.
The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) has provided 1,800 roof sheets for the temporary shelters and three JCB machines had been deployed to clear the road for transporting relief material, he added.