Press Trust of india

Massive fire in central Delhi hotel kills 17 people

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New Delhi, Feb 12:  A massive fire swept through a four-floor hotel in central Delhi's Karol Bagh in the early hours of Tuesday, killing at least 17 guests, including  two people who jumped off the building in a desperate bid to save themselves, officials said.

A child was among those killed in the blaze that started on the first floor of the Arpit Palace Hotel in the heart of the national capital around 3.30 am, trapping many guests who were deep in sleep, a fire official said.

The child as well as the two people who jumped are yet to be identified.

Preliminary investigation suggested a suspected short circuit could have sparked the fire, in which 35 people were injured, civic officials added.

There were 53 people in the 45-room budget hotel, which had a canopy on the terrace housing what appeared to be a restaurant, they said.

Video grabs of the fire taken by an eyewitness showed flames billowing out from the terrace into the pre-dawn darkness.

A call was received at 4.35 am, about an hour after the fire started, and 24 fire tenders were rushed to the spot, a senior Delhi Fire Service official said.

One person is missing, said Madhur Verma, Deputy Commissioner of Police (New Delhi).

"A 43-year-old woman suffered 45 per cent burn injuries," he told reporters, adding that 13 of the bodies were taken to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, two to Lady Hardinge Hospital and two to BLK hospital.

Of the 13 bodies, ten were identified -- three from Kerala, one from Gujarat, and two from Myanmar. The other four, officials said, have been identified but efforts were on to ascertain where they came from.

For Somshekhar from Ernakulam in Kerala, whose sister was the first one to alert them to the smoke and has been missing since, it has been a nightmare without end.

The family had come to attend a wedding in Ghaziabad and was getting ready to go Haridwar when the fire started. His sister rushed out to check what was happening and that's the last he saw of her.

"The entire pathway was full of smoke. My mother and brother were along with my sister at the time. I immediately came to the room and opened the room for fresh air and we managed to escape. We were on the second floor of the hotel," he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among those who condoled the loss of lives.

"Deeply saddened by the loss of lives due to a fire at Karol Bagh in Delhi. I convey my condolences to the families of those who lost their lives," he tweeted.

A majority of the deaths took place due to asphyxiation, fire officials said while there were some who succumbed to their burns.

Some used fire extinguishers were found, suggesting people trapped inside tried to douse the flames in a bid to escape.

But escape may have been almost impossible.

According to Union Tourism Minister K J Alphons, the emergency exit was "too narrow" and also locked. There were also a lot of wooden structures which may have helped the flames spread, he added.

The minister told reporters at the site that the emergency exit was locked at night.

Indicating another problem area, Sandip Khandelwal, president of the Delhi Hotel and Restaurants Owners Association, claimed fire tenders reached 15-20 minutes late because the area was barricaded for security purposes at night and fire tenders had to take a longer route to reach the hotel.

While the Delhi government ordered a magisterial probe, Home Minister Satyendar Jain said he has also directed the fire department to inspect buildings which are five floors or more and submit a report on their fire safety compliance within a week.

"Seventeen people have died, most of them of suffocation. Apparently, there were lapses (from the hotel management's side). Action will taken against those found guilty," he said.

The hotel was first granted a licence in October 2005 and was renewed every year. The last renewal was done on May 25, 2018 and was valid till March 31.

"As per information gathered from the site, it reveals that the incidence of fire accrued at second floor at around 3.30 AM on February 12 due to short-circuit," a North Delhi Municipal Corporation official said.

The civic body has ordered an internal probe.

The hotel had a canopy on its terrace with chairs and tables laid out, indicating that there was an open restaurant operating there, fire officials said, adding that there was wooden panelling in the rooms inside that could have helped the fire spread.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who was among the many politicians and officials who visited the spot, announced Rs 5 lakh compensation for the next of kin of those killed. "It is a very tragic incident. It seems that there may have been some lapses. A magisterial probe has been ordered to investigate the cause of the incident."

The Delhi government also cancelled its  fourth anniversary celebrations in view of the tragedy.

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