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Shaheen Bagh Fire Tragedy: Locals Blame Delayed Fire Brigade Response For the Extensive Damage 

Mohammad Alamullah

New Delhi — A devastating fire broke out in the Shaheen Bagh area, known for its recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The inferno, which ignited in a shop and rapidly escalated, caused widespread panic and significant property damage, though fortunately no casualties were reported.

The fire was reported at approximately 5:44 PM, according to the Delhi Fire Service (DFS). Initial chaos ensued as flames quickly spread across multiple buildings, including restaurants and shops. The local fire brigade, despite an alarming delay, managed to control the blaze after extensive efforts.

Residents in the bustling Shaheen Bagh area described scenes of chaos as news of the fire spread. “There was immediate chaos in the area,” said Riyaz, a member of the Shaheen Bagh Resident Welfare Association. “We informed the local police immediately after the fire broke out in the restaurant.”

Emergency services were summoned at about 5:44 PM, but residents allege that fire engines arrived approximately 45 minutes late. “The station house officer came within five minutes, but the fire engines came late,” Riyaz added. This delay, locals believe, contributed to the extensive damage, including the destruction of three two-storied restaurants, one four-storied restaurant, and several shops and flats.

The fire began in a furniture shop but quickly spread to neighbouring buildings due to exploding LPG cylinders stored in the restaurants. One witness described the harrowing scene: “One by one the cylinders started exploding, and there was a stampede on the spot.” High flames and the sound of explosions intensified the panic among residents and passers-by.

A total of 18 fire tenders were eventually deployed, and it took about two hours to bring the fire under control. According to Praveen Kumar, a station officer from DFS, “No LPG cylinder blast or any other major incident occurred, otherwise the damage could have been greater. The fire is completely doused now.”

The exact cause of the fire remains under investigation. Preliminary reports suggest that a spark in the external part of an air conditioner might have ignited the flames. Other speculations include a short circuit in the electric wires outside one of the restaurants. “Some people said there was a spark in the electric pole, and some said the fire started due to a short circuit in the AC,” said a local resident.

Police and fire brigade teams conducted thorough search operations in the aftermath. Senior officials were present at the site, overseeing the investigation. “The actual reasons for the fire are being ascertained,” stated a police officer on the scene. A case has been registered, and further investigations are ongoing to determine the precise cause.

The local community expressed frustration over the delayed response from the fire brigade. Zubair Siddiqi, a local shopkeeper, voiced his disappointment: “Had it been controlled in time, this massive loss could have been averted.”

The fire incident has left many questioning the preparedness and response times of emergency services in densely populated areas like Shaheen Bagh. “The lanes were narrow, and the DFS vehicles took time to reach the spot,” noted one police officer, highlighting the logistical challenges faced by emergency responders.

In the wake of the tragedy, the focus has shifted to recovery and rebuilding. The fire, which engulfed four restaurants, five shops, and two flats, has caused significant financial loss. The immediate priority is to support the affected businesses and residents in rebuilding their lives.

No casualties have been reported, which officials attribute to the fact that the restaurants were not yet open to customers when the fire broke out. “Fortunately, there were no customers in the restaurant when the fire started,” said an official from the Delhi Fire Service. Cooking preparations were underway, and staff were present, but quick action helped avert potential injuries.

This incident underscores the need for better infrastructure and faster response times in emergency situations. The crowded nature of areas like Shaheen Bagh, coupled with narrow lanes, poses significant challenges for emergency vehicles. Authorities are being urged to review and improve fire safety measures and emergency protocols to prevent such incidents in the future.

As investigations continue, the Shaheen Bagh community remains resilient. Efforts are being made to provide immediate relief to those affected, and there is a collective call for improved safety measures to ensure such a disaster does not recur.

Residents and officials alike have weighed in on the incident. A senior fire officer commented, “We are doing everything we can to investigate the cause of the fire and ensure such incidents are prevented in the future.” Local authorities are also planning to review emergency response strategies to enhance efficiency and effectiveness.

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