Five of India’s deadliest blazes as factory fire kills dozens

Fires are common in India, where laws regarding safety in factories and residential buildings are often flouted.

A woman weeps as she waits outside a mortuary to receive the body of her relative who died in a fire that swept through a factory where laborers were sleeping, in New Delhi
A woman waits outside a mortuary to receive the body of her relative who died in a fire that swept through a factory in New Delhi [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Indian authorities are investigating the cause of a massive fire that killed at least 43 people in a factory in capital New Delhi early on Sunday, as relatives of the workers who were trapped inside waited outside hospital mortuaries to identify the dead.

The fire in the factory, where workers made handbags, caps and other garments, is being considered the second worst incident in the city since a 1997 fire in a film theatre killed 59 people.

Most of the victims of Sunday’s fire were migrant workers from the impoverished eastern state of Bihar, earning as little as 150 rupees ($2) a day and sleeping at the factory between lengthy shifts.

While the cause of the fire is not clear, a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder was registered against the building’s owner, but no arrests were immediately made.

Fires are common across India due to the country’s poor record for workplace safety standards and negligence in the enforcement of building regulations.

Here is a list of five devastating fires that occurred in India:

1. Haryana school blaze

On December 23, 1995, a fire broke out at a  school in the northern state of Haryana’s Mandi Dabwali town, killing 442 people, including 258 children.

The fire was caused by a short circuit in an electric generator during a school event. As the fire engulfed the tent, a number of deaths were also caused by the stampede.

2. Baripada congregation fire

In 1997, nearly 180 people were killed after a massive fire broke out at a religious congregation at Baripada in the eastern state of Odisha.

The fire erupted at temporary structures erected for the followers of a Hindu guru, who had died. His followers congregated to seek the dead guru’s blessings, many of them impoverished villagers.

A number of them were killed in the stampede.

3. Puttingal temple fire

At least 111 people were killed after a fireworks display at a temple at Kollam in the southern state of Kerala sparked a fire in 2016.

Thousands of people had gathered for the pyrotechnic show to mark the start of the Hindu year when sparks ignited the firecrackers.

Five of those arrested were employees of a fireworks manufacturer, who ran the show at the Puttingal Devi temple.

4. Kumbakonam school fire

In 2004, in one of the worst fire incidents in India, at least 94 children were killed in a blaze that started in a thatch-roofed school in Kumbakonam, a temple town about 320km (200 miles) southwest of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state.

The fire started in the school’s kitchen, where food was being prepared on a log fire. The blaze trapped hundreds of children as it spread through the three-storey building. The students were aged four to 10.

Many students were burned beyond recognition, while others were suffocated by the smoke. 

In 2014, 10 people were convicted, including the owner of the primary school who was sentenced to life in prison for culpable homicide and endangerment.

5. Uphaar film theatre fire

In one of New Delhi’s worst tragedies, at least 59 people were killed when a fire broke out at the capital’s Uphaar Cinema during the screening of a Bollywood film on June 13, 1997.

A small fire had broken out in an electric transformer which later exploded in flames. Most of the victims suffocated to death.

The legal case involving the Ansal brothers, owners of the theatre, dragged on for years. In 2015, India’s Supreme Court sent Gopal Ansal to jail for a year and spared his brother Sushil.

Source: Al Jazeera