250 homes gutted in Tughlaqabad fire
Authorities said there were no casualties in the fire and that it was likely caused by a short-circuit.Updated: May 27, 2020 03:16 IST
A fire in a slum in South Delhi’s Tughlaqabad in the early hours of Tuesday destroyed at least 250 homes. Social distancing norms, in place to control the spread of Covid-19, were ignored as the tragedy left many with just the clothes on their backs.
Authorities said there were no casualties in the fire and that it was likely caused by a short-circuit.
According to Atul Garg, chief fire officer (Delhi Fire Services), the fire broke out around 12.45am in Tughlaqabad village . The department deployed 28 fire tenders that took four hours to douse the flame and another two hours to finish the cooling operation.
“The operation was difficult because the slum is on a hilly terrain, the area is poorly lit and the materials with which the homes were constructed were highly inflammable,” said Garg, adding that there was no real threat of his men contacting Covid-19 as they didn’t have to rescue the residents who had escaped by then.
The impact of the blaze was such that exploding cylinders flew across a wide road, affecting a smaller cluster of jhuggis on the other side.
RP Meena, deputy commissioner of police (south-east), said: “We are yet to ascertain the trigger for the blaze, but we suspect it was due to short-circuit. We are registering a case.”
Rinku Mandal, a scrap dealer, said that dense smoke woke her up. “I had withdrawn all my savings of ₹16,000 when the lockdown began. While trying to save my three children from the fire, I forgot about the notes,” she said, holding a plate of yellow rice in her hands.
There were many like Mandal and even more like Ram Phal, a restaurant employee who lost 35 kg of rice and wheat. “Many of us had hoarded food to keep us going during the lockdown,” he said. His family now took shelter under a cloth supported by four sticks.
Many wished they had returned to their home villages after the lockdown was imposed from March 25 to control the spread of Covid-19.
“I stayed back in the hope that the lockdown would be lifted. I returned to work as a domestic help just a week ago, but now I am back to where I was when I moved to Delhi four years ago,” said Aklima Khatoon, a 45-year-old woman.
People from the neighbourhood came out to provide relief. Mazhar Alam, a teacher, and his friends collected ₹6,000 from the neighbourhood colonies to prepare food and buy water. Kakoli Das, a domestic help, collected used clothes to distribute to the slum dwellers.
“We tried to practice social distancing all this while, but now it may not be possible anymore,” said Parvez Ali, an e-rickshaw driver who allowed a family of four to move in to his home.
A few unaffected homes that were unoccupied -- their owners had returned to their home towns and villages during the lockdown -- were quickly occupied by those affected.
By early afternoon, the government began setting up tents to serve as a temporary solution.
“We are trying to ensure social distancing. We’ll provide them space and meals till the time they can rebuild their homes,” said BL Meena, sub-divisional magistrate of Kalkaji.
By late afternoon, the Delhi government announced a financial aid of ₹25,000 to each affected family. The families will be provided food and accommodation in the nearest government school, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said.
A few slum dwellers, meanwhile, tried to salvage whatever they could from the burnt debris. “I have collected all the burnt items from my jhuggi. I’ll see if I can find the gold ornaments I had purchased for my daughter’s future,” said Sapan, a scrap dealer. No one in his six-member family wore masks. “For us, life is no more about coronavirus.”