Are Fires In Delhi Increasing? What Has Caused This And What Can Be Done?

Fires in Delhi NCR are on a rise, owing to heatwave and increased electricity consumption

Are Fires In Delhi Increasing? What Has Caused This And What Can Be Done?

Fire incidents in Delhi NCR are on a record high, devastating lives and property

New Delhi:

The Delhi NCR region has been reeling under a prolonged heatwave, with temperatures nearing 50 in parts of the capital. India is currently under the spell of the longest heatwave ever recorded, lasting 24 days in various places. A heat wave is declared when the mercury crosses the expected temperature by 4.5 degrees Celsius or more. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted that the heatwave will continue until the monsoon rain brings relief.

"Usually, Delhi would see heat waves in April, but this year it has arrived in mid-May," said DownToEarth Climate Correspondent Akshit Sangomla. According to Sangomla, Western Disturbance Systems that bring rainfall from the Mediterranean Sea, were usually a winter phenomenon, but have lately occurred in summers as well, more so over the past few years.

These systems were responsible for an exceptionally cool May last year. This year, the second half of May experienced intense weather because the Western disturbances had stopped. This, along with hot winds from the Arabian Peninsula flowing into the North-West and Central India, raised the Mercury. Additionally, the Arabian Sea has been witnessing exceptionally high ocean temperatures, especially in the last two years, adding to the land surface temperatures.

Amidst these soaring temperatures, reports of fires in the capital have been on the rise. According to the Delhi Fire Services (DFS) call data, 5,218 calls were received in May, compared to 2,935 calls during the same time last year -about a 75 per cent surge. This surge comes in the backdrop of increasing temperatures.

The call log data for June 2024 (until 11 June) already has 1,681 calls and is projected to surpass the 2,571 calls last year.

"Almost 70 per cent of the fires are occurring due to some fault in the electricity - short-circuiting, wrong wiring, overheating, multi-plugging and other related problems," said Delhi Fire Service Chief Atul Garg in an exclusive interview with NDTV.

According to a Discom official, higher temperatures have put additional stress on electrical equipment, with consumers often exceeding the sanctioned load, overloading the circuit and causing short-circuits.

Heatwave Impact? Ground Report On Delhi's Rising Fires

A tea seller resumes work next to the three restaurants that caught fire on 8 June at 40 Foota Road, Shaheen Bagh

A tea seller resumes work next to the three restaurants that caught fire on 8 June at 40 Foota Road, Shaheen Bagh

On 8 June, three restaurants were destroyed in a fire at Delhi's Shaheen Bagh area. A blue tarpaulin separates the charred remains from the rest of the world. Within the cover sits Javed Ahmad, 36, on a plastic chair, with two others around him, planning the reconstruction.

"It is only because of the illegal web of hundreds of Internet cables that this fire couldn't be put out," said Ahmad, who was running Zehra Restaurant for more than five years in this building, before the fire took over.

The electric pole in front of Zehra where the fire first erupted.

The electric pole in front of Zehra where the fire first erupted

In the adjacent building that also caught fire, masons and contract labourers assessed the situation. "I lost everything here- furniture, decor, AC's, Utensils," said Mohammad Irfan, the 32-year-old owner of Bismillah Kebab Corner, who regrets not having finished his insurance paperwork after delayed inspections by the insurance company. Irfan had just started his business seven months ago.

The roof of the charred restaurant was dangerously close to high-tension transmission lines above.

The roof of the charred restaurant stands dangerously close to high-tension transmission lines above

A BSES official confirmed to NDTV that at the request of the Shaheen Bagh police, two Delhi Transco Limited 220 KV circuits near the site of fire were disconnected during the firefighting. The official agreed that teeming infrastructure around these transmission lines was a major concern for the electricity department.

One June 5, a fire broke out at an Eye hospital in South Delhi's Lajpat Nagar. Patients were slowly returning to the Eye 7 Chaudhary Eye Centre a week later, which was running in two rented buildings, one of which was engulfed by the fire.

Chaudhary Eye Center reopens after the fire that gutted the adjacent building on June 5.

Chaudhary Eye Center reopens after the fire engulfed one of its buildings on June 5

Eyewitness accounts and hospital staff suggest that the fire started in the basement of the two-storey building, possibly due to a short circuit near an air-conditioner.

"We acted immediately. Our staff collectively evacuated all the patients from the building and ensured CO2 cylinders were removed as well," said Opinder, General Manager at the Chaudhary Eye Centre. He adds that training and awareness amongst the staff helped evacuation efforts before the fire services arrived.

Hear what the DFS chief had to say regarding electrical fire prevention below.

"In the two cases, the basic difference was that Lajpat Nagar people called us immediately, and Vivek Vihar did not call us for 45 minutes, trying to tackle the fire themselves," said the DFS chief Atul Garg, comparing this fire incident to the fire at Vivek Vihar Baby Care Centre that led to the death of 7 newborn babies on May 25. He also pointed out that lack of cooperation, besides a single exit that had oxygen cylinders stacked under it, caused more damages to life and property. 

These, amongst many other recent cases of fire in Delhi, have been caused by electric short-circuits. Delhi's peak power demand had broken records to reach the 8,000 MW mark on May 29. This mark has since been crossed, with the new record of 8,647 MW peak power consumption on 18 June. Is Delhi ready for this staggering demand?