Two killed, 16 injured in Mantralaya fire (Intro Night Lead) (With images)

June 22nd, 2012 - 12:28 am ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, June 21 (IANS) Two people were killed and 16 others were injured when a major fire swept the Maharashtra Mantralaya or secretariat here Thursday, with officials saying late Thursday the blaze was under control but yet to be fully doused.

Two charred bodies were recovered from outside Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar’s office on the sixth floor of the Mantralaya as fire fighters were still engaged in combating the fire that gutted four floors of the building.

“Two dead bodies - both males - have been found outside an office on the sixth floor,” a fire official said late Thursday.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan earlier said that the massive fire that gutted most of the top four floors was now under control. He also ordered a probe by the Crime Branch.

Chavan, who held an emergency meeting in the evening, discussed the situation with other ministers and planned alternative arrangements for ministers to function till the situation normalised at the state government’s administrative headquarters.

“An inquiry has been ordered. Crime Branch will start an inquiry into the matter,” Chavan told reporters after the meeting.

“It (the blaze) started on fourth floor from room no 411,” he said.

Relief and Rehabilitation Secretary Pravin Pardeshi had said that 65 people trapped on the fifth and sixth floors had been evacuated by Fire Brigade personnel.

“There are no more people inside. Fire fighters are combing the place again to check if anyone has been trapped inside,” he said.

Of the 16 injured, all were in stable condition barring one, Chavan said.

Chief Secretary J. Banthia had also announced at a press conference in the afternoon that all the employees had been evacuated.

This press conference also attended by some ministers turned stormy after journalists and a section of secretariat employees demanded to know how such an inferno could spread so fast in a high security complex.

Chavan, whose office was gutted, looked sombre as he entered the complex with the building still on fire in the evening. He avoided journalists.

Officials said 16 people had suffered varying injuries, with six officials warded in hospitals.

Tribal Welfare Minister Babanrao Pachpute was among the first to try to fight the massive fire, before realising its extent and escaping.

“I was working in my chamber. Suddenly, I heard an explosion and saw a lot of smoke coming out,” Pachpute, whose office is on the fourth floor, told media persons.

Believing it to be a minor fire, he grabbed a fire extinguisher and attempted to douse it, he said, adding he escaped with another minister after realising the extent of the blaze.

Some employees escaped via pipes and cables outside.

“I climbed down a water pipe to escape the flames,” said a breathless man who said that others made similar attempts to escape by clutching to thick electricity cables and drainage pipes.

There were frightening scenes as employees, including women, in the higher floors frantically tried to get out.

Many crowded balconies or perched on window sills and on ledges outside the windows. All of them were taken down by the Mumbai Fire Service using lift ladders.

A total of 21 fire tenders fought the fire which first broke out on the floor four at 2.15 p.m., as thick dark clouds of smoke billowed from the windows, darkening the Mumbai sky.

Authorities said a strong breeze from the sea helped the fire to spread to higher floors and to other sections of the vast building.

Officials admitted a sea of official documents had been destroyed.

A main control tower atop the building which is linked to all the district headquarters in the state was damaged and rendered non-functional in the blaze, besides furniture and fittings, computers, original files and documents of various departments pertaining to important official decisions.

Earlier, a man who escaped claimed that some 50 people were trapped in the building, spreading panic.

Rescue workers appealed to those trapped to get to the roof for rescue by navy helicopters.

Several Marine Commandos joined the rescue operations.

Throughout the fire, more and more fire engines with their sirens wailing raced to the burning Mantralaya from other parts of the city.

Some 1,500 men and women work in the landmark building, in the heart of South Mumbai. It gets an equal number of visitors every day.

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