Why fire at Karol Bagh’s Arpit Palace hotel claimed 17 lives?
Such was the intensity of the blaze at Karol Bagh’s Arpit Palace hotel that by the time the fire department arrived that a firefighter had fallen unconscious after inhaling smoke and received superficial skin burns on his hand as he entered the building.
A ‘significant delay’ in alerting the fire department, inflammable material used in the building, ‘complicated’ locking systems of the windows and the staff’s inability to fight the flames resulted in a large number of casualties in the blaze at Hotel Arpit Palace in Karol Bagh, the Delhi Fire Services said.
Atul Garg, chief fire officer (Delhi Fire Services), said by the time the hotel staff called for help, it was “already very late”. “The fire broke out between 3 and 3.30 am. For a long time, no one got to know of the blaze. When the hotel staffers finally woke up, they took the matter into their own hands instead of alerting us,” Garg said.
“By the time we reached the spot, the fire had intensified. People were trapped inside and some were already dead,” said Garg.
Such was the intensity of the blaze by the time the fire department arrived that a firefighter, Subhash Arya, fell unconscious after inhaling smoke and received superficial skin burns on his hand as he entered the building.
The fire department lost time as they had to take a “longer route” to reach the hotel from the Prasad Nagar fire station, just less than two kilometres away. “Several cuts in the divider on Pusa Road were recently sealed because of which the firefighters had to take a longer route,” said Balan Mani, a local resident.
Garg said it led to a delay of three-four minutes, “but made a lot of difference between life and death”.
Among the fire tenders was a “manually operated” skylift and readying it took another three-four minutes, Garg said. It wasn’t high enough to reach the upper floors, rendering it ineffective in rescuing many victims. By the time another skylift joined the operations, people were already jumping off the building.
Sunil Chaudhary, deputy chief fire officer, said the presence of wooden panels in the walls and the floor of the corridors fuelled the fire and led to dense smoke.
“The rooms did not really suffer much damage. It was mainly the corridors and the stairs because of which the passage was blocked,” said Chaudhary.
Many survivors said the dense smoke forced them to lock themselves inside the rooms. “But the rooms had no ventilation. Smoke seeped in. Guests were falling unconscious because of the heat and smoke,” Chaudhary said.
Since it is winter, the guests had kept the windows locked from inside. The real problem began when they tried to open them. “The latches are complicated. They need to be pressed inward for the window to open. But the panicked guests weren’t aware of the system and found themselves trapped inside,” said Chaudhary.
The fire broke out on the first floor but spread to the upper floors of the hotel that has a residential building on one side and another hotel at its rear. Many guests chose to run upstairs in the hope of finding an exit but found themselves trapped between the burning corridors and the blazing fibre sheet over the rooftop terrace.
“Some people managed to open the top floor windows. Two of them jumped. One man jumped from the rooftop. We urged them not to jump but they had panicked,” said Rajender Singh, a local resident.
Two men landed on the ground and died instantly. One woman from Myanmar landed on the plastic shade of a shop on the ground floor. “That served as a cushion but left her with an injured spine,” said Singh.
Atul Garg said the hotel employees tried to use the in-house firefighting equipment but had failed. “Either the staffers were not trained to use the equipment or they were non-functional,” Garg said.
The authorities said the stairs were not wide enough to allow more than two people from running out together. “That led to a stampede and people fell on each other. There were no lights inside the building, which made it more difficult,” said Dileep Trivedi, a guest from Gujarat who jumped out of the first floor window.
There was an emergency exit but it did not help anyone as the guests said they were unaware about its presence or location. Police said it was blocked with stored goods. “Forget the emergency exit, there was no security guard or hotel staff to help us in those moments,” said
While a chef was among those killed, Chaudhary alleged most of the staffers escaped instead of helping the guests.