Fire breaks out in old building near Taj hotel, one killed
Mumbai, Jul 22, 2019
MUMBAI: Fire broke out in an 80-year-old building in Colaba on Sunday, killing a 50-year-old resident, Shyam Aiyar, in whose flat the blaze is believed to have originated. Casualties would have been higher were it not for the grill-free windows of Churchill Chambers, an elegant four-storey mansion house near Taj Mahal Palace hotel.
While some residents were brought down through the staircase, the fire brigade used ladders to reach the windows and rescued five individuals. It helped that a fire engine was in the vicinity and quickly responded to the emergency call from the building, which doesn’t have a firefighting system.
The fire, which broke out around noon, was probably caused by a short-circuit in Aiyar’s third-floor flat .
Along with his family members, he stared to rush down for safety, but went back to douse the flames and got trapped, said a fire officer. He was found by firefighters two hours later, in a critical condition, and shifted to G T Hospital, where he was declared dead. A fireman, Bhurmal Patil, complained of suffocation during firefighting operations. Fire officials said the building’s third floor has been badly affected by the blaze, which spread down till the stairwell on the second floor.
Blaze-hit building in Colaba evacuated
The area around Taj Mahal Palace hotel, especially Merewether Road on which Churchill Chambers lies, is of great historical and maritime significance. Having played host to naval and merchant sailors from around the world, it is a confluence of global architectural and culinary influences.
Churchill Chambers, like the other buildings on the street, was built under the Apollo Reclamation (south of the Fort area) Scheme, which facilitated the erection of buildings like Taj Mahal Hotel, Yacht Club, and later Gateway of India. Historian Deepak Rao, who recalls cycling along Merewether Road as a child back in the ’60s, says the building housed many Jews and Anglo Indians who were working for the Bombay Port Trust. “So, the building's landlord isn’t the BMC but the Bombay Port Trust,” says Rao. But BMC officials said that the building is a privately-owned Mhada cessed building. Mhada engineers later visited the site.
“The buildings on Merewether Road are century-old structures with good urban design or uniform mass, scale or arcade below. The style can be classified as colonial hybrid, which means they have mixed elements of renaissance revival and some vernacular accents,” said conservation architect Vikas Dilawari.
The building, on Merewether Road, has a six-storey extension, which remained unaffected by the blaze, though power supply to both wings was disconnected and all residents asked to vacate the premises till the complex was declared safe. The residents moved in with relatives, friends or went to hotels.
The victim of the blaze, Shyam Aiyar (50), along with his family members, started to rush down for safety, but went back to douse the flames and got trapped, said a fire officer. He was found by firefighters two hours later, in a critical condition, and shifted to G T Hospital, where he was declared dead. A fireman, Bhurmal Patil, complained of suffocation during firefighting operations. Fire officials said the building’s third floor has been badly affected by the blaze, which spread down till the stairwell on the second floor.
“It was by luck that one of our vehicles was in the area on routine inspection. Thus, we could respond to the fire call without any waste of time,” said chief fire officer P S Rahangdale. “Fortunately, no grills had been fitted on the windows of the flats, which helped us save many lives.”
A couple of residents said that after realizing that the building was on fire, they rushed down to safety, alerting others on the way. Suresh Kesarwani, who lives on the fourth floor of the building’s extension, said, “Smoke quickly started to spread in both wings. We rushed down, along with family members, knocking on every door we passed by. All the residents in our wing came out safely, but many people were trapped on the top floor of the main wing, which has a separate entry.”
Another resident of the extension, Rohit Kadam, went along with firemen in search of Aiyar, the fire’s victim, after his wife informed them that he was inside the building. Kadam, who knows the building’s layout well, said, “I and another resident went along with the fire brigade team. Thick smoke was everywhere, amid which the firefighters started to look for Kadam all over the third floor. They found him at one corner in serious condition and he was breathing.”
Rahangdale, who went to the spot after hearing that people were trapped inside, said, “No firefighting system was in place in the building. We were told that Aiyar went back to fight the blaze and was missing. We found him in a critical state at the back corner of his flat, where the fire was intense.”
Deputy commissioner of police (zone I) Sangramsingh Nishandar said the police have registered an accidental death report, he ruled out the possibility of foul play.
This is not the first major blaze in Colaba in recent years. In June 2016, a massive fire broke out at the crowded, century-old Metro House on Colaba Causeway. However, firefighters managed to evacuate everybody in the building before the flames could reach its wooden staircase.