KOLKATA: Employees and traders at AMP Vaisaakkhi Mall in Salt Lake claimed they did not hear any fire alarm or announcement about the blaze. They learnt about the fire in the basement of the nine-storey building only when the guards ran upstairs to alert them and their colleagues outside called them.
The mall authorities, however, denied the allegation and claimed they had rung the fire alarm the moment they learnt about the fire and also, announcements were made on all floors—asking people to leave the building at the earliest using the stairs—before the fire service department was called.
Amid the contradictory claims, state fire minister Sujit Bose sought a forensic inquiry and asked the fire department chief to lodge an official complaint against the building authorities if any loophole was found on their end. “The forensic department will visit the place to ascertain the exact reason behind the fire. Once the flames are completely put out, our team will inspect the building’s fire safety arrangements and if any loophole is found, we will take adequate legal action against the authorities,” he said.
Bose was accompanied by the director general of fire services, Jag Mohan, who later surveyed the building and even inspected a section of the basement after the flames were brought under control around 8.15pm. “So far, we have learnt that a welding work on the basement led to the fire. The building’s hydrants hadn’t worked and once the fire is completely under control, we will run a thorough check to tick all the boxes for fire safety measures they had in place and what they didn’t. Then only can we take action,” said Jag Mohan.
Fire officials have also asked for the latest copies of fire audit and fire licence of the building and told them to bring the relevant documents to the headquarters on Free School Street. “We have all the documents with us. The fire safety measures are in place and currently, we have been working on upgrading the system in the building,” said a senior official of the mall.
The panicked employees and shopkeepers were visibly shaken. “We could have died today. I had almost choked while rushing down from the sixth floor. My scooter was stuck in the basement. By the time I could retrieve it late at night, the plastic portions was severely damaged,” said Sangjukta Chatterjee, who works at an office there. Another employee on the fourth floor, Surajit Tarafdar, said: “There were no fire alarm or any announcement. I had come down for a cigarette break when I saw the smoke. The guards told me about the fire in the basement. I alerted my colleagues and brought them down,” he said.