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Blaze guts shanties in Bandra slums

A massive fire at the Nargis Dutt Nagar slums in Bandra gutted nearly 80 shanties on Tuesday, leaving residents nowhere to go for the night. Four people, including two children, have been admitted to K.B Bhabha Hospital and are under observation for anxiety and giddiness.

It took the fire brigade 12 fire engines and almost three hours to douse the blaze. This is not the first time a fire has erupted in the slums, and the fresh blaze has raised questions on encroachments in the area.

The fire broke out around 11.30 a.m. and residents reported at least two cylinder blasts. The fire brigade declared it a level IV blaze, and pressed into service 12 fire engines and 10 water tankers. The local ward office also deployed around 50 labourers and four JCBs.

Challenging operation

The narrow lanes that house the shanties and the crowds made it a challenging operation for the firefighters. The fire brigade also used additional water supply valves installed for the 24×7 water project started in Bandra.

Ismail Shaikh Mistry, president of Nargis Dutt Nagar Welfare Society, has been a witness to two major fires in the four decades he has lived here. “When there was a fire in 1993 and 2004, I suffered great losses.This time I was more fortunate than others, because the blaze broke out in the structure next to mine,” Mr. Mistry said.

Imran Khan (30), who works as a delivery man, had been saving up Rs. 20,000 for months to repay creditors. He has lost his belongings, including a refrigerator and a new television set, adding to his financial burden. “Fortunately, my wife and two kids were not at home,” he said.

Bhabha Hospital received seven patients, but none had burn injuries. Four of them, Asha Rajendra Gupta (42), Sana Sheikh (36), Humaira Salauddin Rain (9) and Saifuddin Salauddin Rain (2), have been admitted. Gulam Rasul Sheikh (28), a tailor, suffered minor injuries. “I have got five stitches on my hand,” he said.

Dr. Sanjay Patil, senior medical officer at the hospital, said most of the patients were brought in between 12 and 12:30 p.m. “None of them have suffered burn or inhalation injuries. We are treating them for anxiety and trauma.”

Humaira and Saifuddin, the two children, who have been admitted, were alone at home when the fire broke out. Humaira took her younger brother and took refuge in the concrete house next door. “They were sitting in a pit in the pucca house nearby. Had she not had the presence of mind to go there, they would not have been saved,” said Mohammed Wasim, (28), their uncle. Mr. Wasim estimated the family has lost jewellery around Rs. 1 lakh and Rs. 15,000 in cash.

Deputy chief fire officer V.N. Panigrahi said they found the children when they removed the roofs to check if anything was burning inside the shanties.

Worry over documents

Suraiyya Khan (35), a domestic help, almost fainted with the shock of losing her house to the fire, while Mohammed Yakub Ibrahim Sayyed (60), an autorickshaw driver, was distraught on losing Rs. 17,000. But both of them, and many of those who have lost their homes, are equally concerned about losing important documents like identity cards and the school certificates of their children.

With their houses gone, while some planned to go to their relatives’ homes, others had nowhere to go but the footpath for the night.

“This is not the first time a fire has broken out here. There has been no casualty despite it being such a major fire, which is suspicious. We have carried out regular demolitions here despite it being MHADA land,” said a senior BMC officer.

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