(This story was originally published on 19 April 2022 and has been republished from The Quint's archives in light of the Mundka fire tragedy in Delhi, wherein at least 27 people have been reported dead so far.)
From 1 April to 17 April, the Delhi Fire Service (DFS) received 2,219 fire calls from the national capital – from a fire at platform number 5 at the New Delhi Railway station, a blaze at a banquet hall in Peerhagarhi to a fire at the infamous Uphaar Cinema one morning, and another at a restaurant in southeast Delhi that killed one.
On 9 April, the DFS received the highest number of fire calls for the month of April at 168, and on 15 April reported the least number of fire calls at 114.
The DFS Chief, Atul Garg, told The Quint that there are two main reasons behind this "spike in numbers" – soaring temperatures and low fire safety maintenance at restaurants, factories and banquets after the most of them remained shut due to COVID-19 lockdown.
Number of Fires Higher Than Previous Years
Garg said, "Every year in April, the number of fires does go up but this year, it's higher than most years. The daily fire calls that we get in May, we are getting them weeks in advance due to the heat."
In 2021, the DFS got 3,240 fire calls from 1 April to 30 April. In 2020, however, the number was down to 1,801. "This was due to the lockdown. Everything was shut in the city, and these numbers were unprecedented," said Garg. In 2019, the DFS got 3,081 calls all of April.
Garg said that in 2022, restaurants, factories, hotels, and banquets have fully opened after several lockdowns starting March 2020 due to COVID-19.
"People suffered immense losses in that period and now that they have opened up, fire safety measures and upping fire safety equipment after two years is not a priority," said Garg.
On 14 April, an air conditioner compressor exploded at Waffle Mania, a restaurant in South-east Delhi's Jamia area. Five people were injured in the fire and one person died. The same day, a club in West Delhi's Punjabi Bagh called Troy reported a blaze, and three fire tenders were dispatched to douse the flames.
Garg said that apart from ensuring fire safety measures are up to date, owners of establishments also need to get air conditioners, compressors, heaters, and geysers serviced, especially since the most of them had remained shut for a long period of time due to COVID-19.
Multiple Fires in April
On 17 April, at least 10 fire fighters from Delhi were dispatched to help douse a massive fire at a chemical factory in Haryana's Sonipat – the fire was caused, allegedly due to a short circuit, and the blaze spread after "it caught oil leaking from drums containing peppermint oil, causing a series of explosions," as per a senior Sonipat fire officer.
On 9 April – the day the DFS received the maximum fire calls in this month so far – six firefighters were injured during a firefighting exercise at a factory in Anand Parbat. Garg said that it was an electrical manufacturing unit and LPG cylinders burst on a floor above during the dousing mission, injuring the fire personnel.
As per data shared by the DFS, Delhi reported 2,432 fire calls in March this year, 1,721 calls in February, and 1,924 calls in January.
With over a 100 fire calls in Delhi daily in April, the DFS has "restricted leaves of all the staff." Apart from this, all the fire tenders and other vehicles and equipment have been "overhauled and kept in ready-for-deployment condition."
Garg said that this is also the time that crop fires go up, and to handle this, the "outpost fire stations such as Narela, and Khera Dabur have been strengthened."