Fire tragedy

On May 31, 1999, a fire in a godown in the walled city of Delhi left more than 48 people dead. The godown was being used to store chemicals and inflammable material like paints and resins. "The toll is expected to rise since most of the victims have received 70 to 80 per cent burns,' said one of the doctors at Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Hospital where most of the victims are admitted.

The intensity of the fire was such that it gutted the shop on the opposite side of the road, charring human beings and animals. "The fireball emerged from the godown and struck an adjoining building at an fearful speed,' said S S Tulli, a fire service official.

As many as 30 fire engines, 100 fire-fighters from the Delhi Fire Service and assisted by residents, managed to bring the fire under control only after a three-hour struggle. "Most of the damage was done by the time we reached the area,' says S B K Singh, the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central).

The four buildings that were gutted housed combustible material like kites, bamboos and fabrics. The police are still clueless as to the cause of the fire. The Delhi Municipal Corporation has confirmed that the godown was storing hazardous chemicals without a license, and that in the past four years not a single license had been issued to store chemicals.

The Delhi government reacted to this incident by announcing that it will relocate chemical godowns from congested commercial areas to the freight complex in Ghazipur in east Delhi. This decision was taken by a high level meeting headed by Lt Governor Vijai Kapoor. The municipal corporation has also set up a task force to check buildings which illegally store inflammable materials.

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