Smoke billows from a warehouse after it caught fire in New Delhi on May 29, 2018. Photo: Reuters /Saumya Khandelwal
Smoke billows from a warehouse after it caught fire in New Delhi on May 29, 2018. Photo: Reuters /Saumya Khandelwal

Hundreds of firefighters fought an overnight battle before quelling a massive fire that erupted in a rubber warehouse in New Delhi on Tuesday evening. Remarkably, no casualties had been reported in the incident as of press time late on Wednesday.

Fire officials on the scene told Asia Times a truck unloading rubber sheets in the warehouse or godown caught fire after its tire burst due to high temperatures in the city. The blaze then set rubber alight in the warehouse, at around 5pm IST on Tuesday.

First responders cordoned off the area to keep locals and residents away from the warehouse and surrounding areas. Officials initially suspected that the truck was carrying “plastic chemicals” and were concerned about a possible explosion if it caught fire, but they later found that it was actually carrying coal. Plumes of poisonous smoke emanated from the fire and could be seen from several kilometers away.

Firefighters used extinguisher foam, thousands of liters of water and sand to control the blaze. After about five hours, some officials told reporters they had the blaze under control and that it would be extinguished soon. However, other officials voiced fears that the blaze may not be quelled until all the rubber inside the storehouse had been burnt.

YouTube video

“There are so many people living in the area that if all of them had brought a bucket of water, the fire could have been contained easily. But everyone just stood there making videos and watching the drama,” one official said.

Residents at the scene expressed concern about breathing in the toxic smoke being spewed out by the fire. Though the fire did not take any casualties, it certainly worsened Delhi’s already polluted air.

The rubber warehouse was located next to Sant Nirankari Public School in the heavily populated Khirki Extension area in Malviya Nagar locality. The school was closed for students due to ongoing summer vacations, and staff and teachers on the premises were promptly evacuated.

More than 50 fire trucks were deployed to the scene and the blaze was brought partly under control by the evening. However, sudden heavy winds fanned the flames again at night.

The blaze then went on to engulf parts of the adjoining school and an empty residential building – still being built – near the warehouse.

Finally, the Indian Airforce deployed a Mi 17 helicopter on Wednesday equipped with a Bambi bucket, full of water, to help contain the blaze. Fire tenders with dry chemical power foam were also engaged in the operation.

Medical teams at Max Saket, Rainbow Child Speciality hospital, Safdarjung hospital, and AIIMS were also on standby in case of injuries but no casualties were reported.

Meanwhile, local Aam Aadmi Party MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj said the area has many illegal warehouses and factories that are “disasters waiting to happen”. He had also complained to the South Delhi Municipal Corporation but it had taken no action, DNA media outlet reported.

A case has been registered under section 285 and 336 of the penal code – negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible mat­ter and endangering life or personal safety of others, respectively.