Fire fighters worked all through the night and finally managed to put out the massive Mumbai Mantralaya or secretariat fire in the early hours today - over 12 hours after it broke out. But by then, three people had lost their lives and at least eight other were injured.
Mumbai Police has registered an accidental death case. The Crime Branch of the city will begin an inquiry today to ascertain the cause of the blaze. Forensic experts will also inspect the premises. The cause is suspected to be a short circuit, but sabotage will be investigated as well, routine for an inquiry of this kind.
A senior fire brigade officer said this morning that while the flames have been doused, the cooling operation will continue for next two days. A special meeting of the Maharashtra cabinet will be held today to review the situation in the aftermath of the fire.
At least three floors of the Mantralaya, the government's headquarters, have been charred and soot marks have ruined the building's facade. But following their daily routine, Mantralaya officials hoisted the national flag on top of the building this morning. Yesterday, when the fire was raging on, the staff was seen folding the flag.
The massive fire began at about 2.45 pm on Thursday on the fourth floor of the Mantralaya. It spread quickly to engulf the fifth, and the sixth floors of the seven-storey building. Nearly 5,000 people were inside the building when the fire began. Some said it took more than 30 minutes after a phone call for fire engines to arrive.
To battle the fire, more than 20 fire engines were parked at the building. On cranes, and via ladders and ropes, they rescued nearly 65 people trapped inside the building. The rest of the building was empty by now. Naval helicopters joined the rescue operations. The Navy sent a message through the media that those trapped inside should climb to the roof if they could, so that they could be airlifted. Vans equipped with oxygen tanks were rushed to the site from the nearby hospital for those who were emerging, their lungs full of smoke.
"The fire kept getting stronger, first there was only smoke. We broke the windows with chairs and climbed out on the ledge. We climbed down the pipe from the fifth floor," said a man who was trapped in the fire.
Three bodies were recovered during combing operations from the building. Two of them were found on the sixth floor outside the Deputy Chief Minister's office. They have been identified as Umesh Kotekar and Mahesh Ghugale.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan was inside the building when the fire began. He was escorted outside and from there, after which he supervised the rescue operations. At least eight people were injured and moved to hospital.
The fire has reportedly destroyed crucial files of the Urban Development Department, Town Planning Department, Housing Department, Forest Department and Power Department. But Employment Guarantee Scheme Minister Nitin Raut said over three lakh files in Mantralaya have been scanned on computers and hence can be retrieved.
The Chief Minister has said the ministers will work from alternate offices.