Fire destroys Asia’s biggest chilli market (Lead)

May 3rd, 2008 - 5:12 pm ICT by admin  

Hyderabad, May 3 (IANS) A major fire Saturday destroyed Asia’s largest red chilli market in Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur town, about 300 km from here. Clouds of acrid smoke enveloped neighbourhoods over a kilometre downwind. The fire fighting personnel have so far failed to control the blaze which broke out around 10 a.m. destroying hundreds of shops and thousands of bags of chilli, police said.

The fire, which erupted in one of the shops, engulfed the entire market yard, destroying 450 shops of commission agents and over 300,000 bags of chilli, each containing around 40 kg.

With a strong wind blowing, the flames spread fast over the 56-acre market yard, forcing people in nearby residential areas to move to safer places.

Even after four-hour-long efforts, 10 fire engines failed to control the flames, which continued to rage when reports last came in. The district officials wanted to press a helicopter into service but fire service officials ruled this out as clouds of acrid chilli smoke spread over one kilometre downwind.

The acrid smoke made the fire fighting more difficult. Some traders were seen trying to retrieve whatever they could before the flames gripped the entire yard.

The authorities pressed private water tankers into service and called more fire engines from neighbouring Vijayawada city and Prakasam district.

Market yard officials estimated the loss at Rs.1-2 billion. One of them told a television channel that the fire engines did not reach on time, allowing the flames to spread.

Minister for Transport K. Lakshminarayana rushed to the scene to supervise relief and rescue operations. Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who is in New Delhi, has directed district collectors of Krishna and Prakasam districts to reach the market yard.

According to official sources, the chief minister has ordered an inquiry into the incident.

Minister for Marketing M. Marappa said while the loss on account of destroyed chilli was estimated to be Rs.300 million, property worth Rs.400 million was also gutted. A bank and 200 huts were among the structures destroyed in the fire.

Guntur district Superintendent of Police Mahesh Chandra Laddha quoted witnesses as saying that smoking led to the disaster. He, however, said the actual cause would be known only after investigations.

Chilli farmers from different parts of the state and even neighbouring states bring their produce to the Guntur market, which also serves as an export hub.

Guntur, a commercial hub, is famous for production of some of the best varieties of chilli in the world. Andhra Pradesh, the largest chilli growing state in India, account for 46 percent of the country’s production.

Spices produced in Praksam, Krishna, Khammam and Warangal districts are also brought to Guntur for trading.

The mishap occurred when the chilli marketing season was at its peak. According to officials, daily 30,000 to 50,000 bags of chilli from various places arrive at the market. Thousands of bags are stored in warehouses and cold storages in and around the market.

The market does a business of eight to 10 million bags of chillies during every season (February to May). Trade worth Rs.10 billion takes place in the market, which despite being Asia’s largest lacked proper infrastructure.

Traders complained that successive governments failed to develop the market. There were no precautionary measures in place to deal with fire, they said.

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