Fire staff prevent blaze from spreading to 78 cracker cartons

where an explosion, suspected to have been triggered by the mishandling of a consignment of crackers, resulted in a fire that killed two people on Thursday.

There were 80 cartons of firecrackers (sky shot rockets) — each box containing nearly 15-20 kg of explosives — stacked on either side of the walls of the narrow godown. Officials now suspect fire was triggered when one of the boxes fell down.

B.M. Shekhar, District Fire Officer, who led the firefighting at the scene, said by the time they arrived at the spot — within 10 minutes after the alarm was sounded — the fire was already raging. They realised the magnitude of the situation when they saw the remaining cartons, fortunately still untouched by fire. “We cut off the power supply. As a priority we wet the crackers to ensure they do not explode. If the entire consignment had exploded, the damage would have been far worse,” he said. It took them 30 minutes to put out the fire.

Police officials recovered 78 cartons of crackers that were untouched by the fire, indicating that two boxes exploded. The entire consignment put together had at least 1,200 kg of explosives, police officials estimate.

Narrow escape

The first floor of the ground-plus-one building that housed the godown, which was on the ground floor, is home to a senior citizen and cardiac patient Saramma. She lives with her two granddaughters, both aged under 10.

“The blast was so loud. All the window panes shattered and it felt like the house was collapsing. I screamed for help saying there are two kids here. Some youths came rushing, rescued us and brought us down safely within minutes,” Ms. Saramma recounted the ordeal to mediapersons. Her son Anand, who was at work, rushed home. On finding his family unharmed, he broke down while thanking the two people who rescued his mother and his children.

Owner of godown booked

The police have booked Ganesh Babu, owner of the godown Mahakali Amman Lorry Service Centre, for culpable homicide and also under various sections of the Explosives Act, 1884. “Ganesh Babu neither had a trade licence from the civic body nor a permit to store explosives. No safety precautions were taken,” a senior police official said. While the mishandling of a consignment of firecrackers is suspected to have triggered the explosion and the fire, the police are waiting for the forensic report.

“There are safety protocols prescribed for storing explosives, none of which were followed. The godown did not even have a permit,” said a senior police official. He added that many godowns in the city store explosives even though they do not have the permits to do so. “Cracker factories in Sivakasi and elsewhere also do not insist on transport permits, leading to illegal and unsafe transport and storage of crackers,” the police official added.

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Sagar Biswas

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