NEW DELHI, India, June 29, Reuter: Indian Air Force helicopters today plucked trapped office workers from the roof of a blazing central New Delhi tower block in which six people were killed including two men who jumped to escape the flames.

More than 2,000 people worked in the 13storey Ansal Bhawan when the fire raced’ through the middle floors in late morning. Army units were called in to assist the fire brigade.

The Press Trust of India (PT!) said at least six people were killed and more than 30 injured but authorities would only immediately confirm three were dead.

Survivors told Reuters some fire exits were blocked. Workers balanced on window ledges screamed for help as others crawled through darkened smoke-filled passages in the building in the capital’s bustling Connaught place commercial district.

“The whole place was in darkness and filled with smoke. The fire escapes were blocked. with wires and other things. We could not go up but after some time I managed to come down through the smoke”, said D.S. Uppal who was on the 10th floor.

It was the worst fire in New Delhi since January last year when 38 people, including 22 firefighters, were killed in a hotel fire. That blaze prompted an official enquiry which raised serious questions about fire safety in the capital.

The fire apparently broke out about 11:30 a.m. (0600 GMT), witnesses said, but the exact location and cause were not immediately clear. Witnesses said at least the sixth through eighth floors appeared involved.

Thick smoke billowed ‘the burning floors and flames erupted from windows as hundreds of police and firefighters assisted by troops from the capital garrison battled the blaze. At least 30 people were trapped on the roof, and some were lifted off by two aircraft helicopters. Others crawled to safety on a makeshift bridge of scaffolding from the Ansal Bhawan roof to an adjacent building under construction.

“We were a little scared but it was a thrilling experience. I was wondering how I was going to climb that bridge”, survivor Bhuvana Nair told Reuters.

Other victims called for help from window ledges but fire brigade ladders could only reach to the seventh floor.

“TJ saw a woman in panic wanting to jump down but she was being held back by others in the room,” 30yearold Paras Kumar told Reuters.

Kumar also said he saw a man try to escape from the 10th floor by a rope thrown to him by construction workers in the adjacent building.

“But he failed to hold on to the rope, fell down and died”, he said.

The 1986 enquiry into the hotel fire criticized slow fire brigade response, lack of proper equipment and found less than 13 per.

Article extracted from this publication >>  July 3, 1987