Surat fire: Tyres used as chairs in class, fire tenders were 45 mins away

Presence of inflammable materials, including flex and tyres, and fire tenders stationed away from the spot contributed to the blaze at a commercial complex in Surat and hampered the fire fighting operation, Gujarat Chief Secretary J N Singh said Sunday. Twenty-two students, including 18 girls, of an art and craft coaching institute died in the devastating fire that engulfed the four-storeyed Takshashila Arcade in Sarthana area of Surat on Friday. Preliminary probe revealed that use of highly inflammable materials and tyres, which doubled up as chairs in the coaching class, caused the fire to spread rapidly, Singh said. The fire spread very quickly because highly inflammable materials, such as flex, were used. The ceiling (of the coaching institute) was just five feet high. Since one cannot sit on a chair in such a room, the owner used tyres instead of chairs for the students, the chief secretary told reporters here. High-capacity fire tenders took time to reach the spot as they were stationed at a considerable distance, around 45 minutes away. It hampered the fire fighting operation to some extent, he said. The municipal corporation has high-capacity fire tenders for dousing fires in multi-storeyed buildings. The owner of the institute, Bhargav Butani, was arrested on Saturday. The builders – Harshul Vekaria and Jignesh Paghdal, are on the run. Singh said two officials of the Surat fire department – S K Acharya and Kirti Mod – have been suspended for laxity. Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has asked Additional Chief Secretary of Urban Development Department, Mukesh Puri, to conduct a thorough inquiry and submit a report on Monday, he said. In the wake of the tragedy, all the municipalities and municipal corporations in the state have undertaken a massive drive to identify buildings which do not comply with fire safety norms, the chief secretary said. All these municipalities and corporations have formed 713 teams to identify such buildings. We have already examined over 9,900 buildings housing tuition classes, malls or hospitals, and issued show-cause notices to over 9,300 premises. Owners have been warned that they should install fire fighting systems or else the buildings will be sealed, Singh said. This incident was a wake up call for us and we are sorry and sad about it. We are taking all necessary steps to ensure that such incidents do not take place in future, he said.