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Secunderabad Fire Casualties Would've Been More if Offices Were Open: Survivors

Six people died, reportedly due to asphyxiation, after they were trapped inside a commercial complex.

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Secunderabad Fire Casualties Would've Been More if Offices Were Open: Survivors
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"I was on the third floor when I first noticed the smoke. It was around 7:30 pm. Some of my colleagues and I came out of the building immediately," said N Satyaiah, who works in a pharmaceutical company that runs out of Swapnalok Complex in Telangana's Secunderabad, where a massive fire broke out on the night of Thursday, 16 March.

"By the time we were out, flames had engulfed one portion of the building – the B block – which was at the rear side," he told The Quint.

Six people died, reportedly due to asphyxiation, after they were trapped inside the commercial complex. Firefighters rescued at least 12 people from the building initially, according to Y Nagi Reddy, Director-General of the Telangana Fire Services Department.

The fire that broke out at Swapnalok Complex in Secunderabad.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

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"The fire broke out at around 7:20 pm. We managed to extinguish the fire completely by 2 am and rescue at least 12 people trapped in the building initially," Nagi Reddy told the media on the morning of Friday, 17 March.

The six others who were trapped inside were pulled out later and they died during treatment, most likely due to asphyxiation, he added.

The major cause of the fire was a short circuit in the electrical shaft of the building, but what exacerbated it was the lack of functional firefighting equipment, Nagi Reddy said.

A case was registered at Mahankali police station as well as by the Fire Services Department against the building authorities for violation of fire safety management.

The rear side of Swapnalok Complex in Secunderabad.

(Photo: Meenakshy Sasikumar/The Quint)

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What Eyewitnesses Said

As it was raining on Thursday evening – and there was heavy wind – the flames got stronger, said another eyewitness, B Brahmachari, who works at a Singapore-based MNC, which has an office in Swapnalok Complex.

"I had thankfully come out of the building by then. In fact, most offices had locked up as it was post-work hours. Otherwise, the casualty would have been much higher."

Brahmachari claimed there were hardly any fire exits in the building, which is nearly three decades old. "This happened due to negligence in maintenance. The owners and tenants are least bothered about maintaining fire safety equipment," he alleged.

Swapnalok Complex is a commercial building located in one of the busiest parts of Secunderabad. According to Nagi Reddy, at least 400 offices and shops run out of the building, which has eight floors in total. The offices include small businesses, startups, and even MNCs. 
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Eyewitnesses at the spot further told The Quint that they first saw smoke coming out of the eighth floor of the building, and from there, the flames spread to other floors.

The fifth floor was the most affected as there were combustible materials in one of the offices, they added. Those who died in the fire were trapped on the same floor.

"While there were burn injuries on the deceased, all of them seem to have died of inhalation injuries. That is, they seem to have inhaled carbon monoxide and other poisonous gasses which emanated from the fire," Raja Rao, superintendent of Secunderabad's Gandhi Hospital, told The Quint on Thursday night.

Five of the six victims were undergoing treatment at Gandhi Hospital. They were all below 25 years of age.

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, on Friday, announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the families of the deceased.

Swapnalok Complex in Secunderabad.

(Photo: Meenakshy Sasikumar/The Quint)

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'There Was Safety Equipment, but...'

Though fire safety systems – like hydrants and sprinkers – were in place at Swapnalok Complex, they were poorly maintained and not operational, said Nagi Reddy.

"We [Fire Services Department] had inspected 2,000 buildings and establishments in Hyderabad recently, one of which was Swapnalok Complex. We had instructed them to take appropriate safety measures. But they didn't do anything about it," said DG Nagi Reddy.

In fact, in 2011-12, a minor fire had broken out in the same building. While there were no casualties, it prompted building owners to install fire safety equipment.

But merely installing equipment is not enough, said Nagi Reddy. 

"Individual owners and occupiers of the building should also take some responsibility in managing the equipment – not only the fire department, GHMC [Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation], or other government agencies," he said.

Incidentally, the fire broke out on the same day that the Fire Services Department held a meeting to discuss fire safety measures and ways to tackle fire-related mishaps in Hyderabad.

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Venkat Ramana, who has been working in the building since 2007, told The Quint that the 2011-12 fire at Swapnalok Complex was minor compared to Thursday's mishap. "The first incident happened on the third floor, where I was working. But the damage was limited to property."

"They installed fire extinguishers after the incident, but no one knows if they are still working. Nobody has even used them, I believe. It is kept there for the sake of it."

The fire at Swapnalok Complex is the fourth major fire in Secunderabad in recent times. In September 2022, eight people, including a woman staying in a hotel, were killed in a midnight fire that originated from an electric bike showroom located in Secunderabad.

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