New Delhi, Nov 25 (PTI) More than 100 shops were gutted in a blaze at a wholesale market in Bhagirath Palace area of Chandni Chowk while firefighting operations continued even after 24 hours on Friday, police said.
Five buildings were affected by the massive fire and three of them have collapsed, officials said, adding no loss of life or injuries has been reported so far.
"The fire was brought under control on Friday morning and the cooling process was underway but by evening, it reignited and became massive once again. It has been nearly 24 hours since the fire broke out and firefighters are still struggling to douse the flames," said a senior police officer.
At 9 pm, 20 fire tenders were engaged in extinguishing the blaze, a fire department official said.
According to the fire department, the incident was reported at 9.19 pm on Thursday, following which 40 fire tenders were rushed to the spot.
The fire broke out in a shop in Mahalaxmi Market and soon spread to the adjacent shops of electrical appliances, officials said.
White smoke billowed high in the sky as the toxic stench of burning plastic and rubber polluted the air. In the morning, 22 fire tenders were working on cooling operations.
"The cause of the fire is not yet known," Director of Delhi Fire Service Atul Garg told PTI.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (North) Sagar Singh Kalsi said as soon as information about the fire was received, the fire department, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and reserve force from police rushed to the spot.
"Every effort was put in to douse the fire. There is no casualty at present. Five major buildings were affected and around 100 shops got incinerated. Of the five affected buildings, three have collapsed," he added.
Ignoring the intermittent sounds of blasts and policemen warning of boned-out portions of buildings collapsing, traders, who had their noses and mouths covered with handkerchiefs to prevent the stench, waited impatiently to enter their incinerated shops so as to recover whatever was left by the blaze.
A trader, Sanjay Kumar, who was sitting in the lane adjacent to one of the affected buildings, said, "Our shop is destroyed. We are waiting for the fire to be extinguished completely but I dont think anything is left... We have suffered a loss of several crores." Among those eagerly waiting for the fire to die down was Balwinder Singh who has a shop in the building opposite to that of the affected ones.
"As of now our shop is safe. I got to know about the fire at around 11 pm and my father was in the shop. He told me that our shop is safe but I am here to check," Singh said.
Meanwhile, several traders blamed narrow lanes, poor infrastructure, and inflammable material for the fire in the market and the alleged delay in fire tenders reaching the spot.
Claiming that the fire broke out due to a short circuit, the traders accused the authorities of not taking corrective measures to fix the infrastructural problems, which cause frequent fires in the area.
In a similar incident in September, a massive fire broke out on the top floor of a three-storey commercial building and destroyed 80 shops.
The traders claimed their cumulative loss to be around Rs 400 crore and demanded compensation from the government.
"We have written to the Delhi government a lot of times to take corrective measures in the market but no action has been taken so far. A fire erupts every five to six months. There is a mesh of hanging wires everywhere and no fire warning system has been installed. No infrastructure improvement has been done," a trader said.
"The government should compensate the shopkeepers for the losses they have incurred," he added.
Meanwhile, the fire officials said that weak structures, shortage of water and narrow lanes posed a major challenge for them to carry out firefighting operations.
In a tweet, Director of Delhi Fire Service Atul Garg said, "Fire in Chandni Chowk. Total 40 fire vehicles and 200-plus fire personnel were deployed. Major concern weak structures, shortage of water and narrow lane, building started collapsing." According to data shared by the fire department, the Delhi Fire Service has attended 40 fire-related calls in Chandni Chowk till November 23 this year.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal expressed grief over the incident and said he is taking stock of the situation from the district administration concerned.
"This incident of fire in Bhagirath Palace market of Chandni Chowk late last night is very sad. Since last night, the fire brigade personnel are working hard to douse the flames. I am taking information about this from district administration," he tweeted in Hindi. PTI AMP/VA RHL