Residents of Delhi’s down town Anaj Mandi area woke up to thick smoke and trapped voices calling out for desperate help from inside an illegal bag manufacturing factory which was ablaze. The fire eventually claimed at least 43 lives, making it the second worst fire incident in the national capital after the Uphaar cinema tragedy of 1997.
The toll is feared to rise as many more are still battling for their lives at different Delhi hospitals.
"Very early in the morning when it was still dark, we heard screams and cries from men, seeking help. It was a horrific sight to see so many of them standing at the windows, screaming for help as a fire raged in the building," said Kafeel, a resident who witnessed the incident.
Narrow lanes coupled with single entry and exit points made firefighting and rescue very tough. The NDRF was also pressed into service for rescue and relief operations.
The factory lacked all fire safety norms and was in no way qualified for a fire safety test.
The people who died in the fire are labourers and they were sleeping in the factory when the fire broke out between 4.30 a.m. and 5 a.m. on Sunday morning.
The Fire Department said that they received a call around 5.22 a.m. and 25 fire tenders were rushed to the spot. The exact cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained but the fire officials said it could be a short circuit.
The fire broke out on the first floor and hence occupants on the second floor couldn't escape, said eye witnesses.
Many of those who were rescued were declared dead at the hospital due to asphyxia, a condition arising when the body is deprived of oxygen, causing unconsciousness or even death.
The fire also spread to two other nearby buildings, said Delhi Fire Service Chief Atul Garg.
While Delhi government announced Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 lakh respectively for the families of killed and injured, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sanctioned Rs 2 lakh and Rs 50 thousand. Delhi unit of the BJP has also announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh for families of killed and Rs 25,000 for the injured.
The Legislative Assembly elections in Delhi are due early next year.
The blaze is one of the biggest fire incidents in Delhi after the Uphaar Cinema fire which took place on June 13, 1997 in south Delhi's Green Park area leading to the deaths of 59 people and left over 100 injured.
As political leaders rushed to announce competitive compensation packages, it didn't take longer for politics to take over and blame game to begin.
Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Manoj Tiwari took to Twitter to question Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's decision to go ahead with "Badhai Timarpur" (Congratulations Timarpur) event.
"While, on one side, entire Delhi is sad, 43 families are devastated, many people are injured...Delhi's chief minister is participating in the 'Badhaai Timarpur' event. Kejriwal ji, how can you be so insensitive," Tiwari tweeted.
Countering Tiwari, Sanjay Singh of the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) accused the BJP of playing politics. It blamed the BJP-run Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) for allowing the factory to run from a residential area.
When Tiwari subtly blamed the state government for the "dangling electric wires", the AAP claimed the BJP was politicising the unfortunate deaths.
While the DFS, NDRF and Police conducted swift operations to rescue the trapped persons, the Centralised Accident and Trauma Services (CATS) with its 26 ambulances deployed for the rescue shifted the victims to the hospital.
"We received a call around 5:00 a.m. in the morning, immediately 26 ambulances were deployed at the spot. Most of the patients died due to smoke while there are some who have received serious burns too," CATS control room in-charge told IANS.
President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed their condolences over the tragic fire. Both the heads of the country took to Twitter to send their messages and prayers for the recovery of those suffered injuries.
The PM called the fire "extremely horrific".
Union Home Minister Amit Shah instructed concerned authorities to provide all help.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal described the incident as "tragic" and said firemen were doing their best. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also expressed his condolences over the incident.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi expressed "deep shock" at the accident.
In a statement released by the Congress, Sonia Gandhi expressed her "deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of over four dozen deceased in the tragic accident".
She has also instructed Congress leaders and workers to assist the authorities in rescue and relief operations.
This is the third major fire incident in the national capital after the Uphaar tragedy and the Arpit Hotel incident which occurred in February this year. While the Uphaar fire killed 59 people and injured more than 100, the hotel fire incident claimed at least 17 lives.