In the narrow bylanes of Delhi's Chandni Chowk, firefighters toiled for hours to douse a blaze that overnight gutted around 100 shops of a wholesale market of electrical and electronic goods.
Ignoring the intermittent sounds of blasts and policemen warning of boned-out portions of buildings collapsing, dejected traders, who had their faces covered with handkerchiefs to prevent the stench, waited impatiently to enter their incinerated shops to recover whatever they could.
Amid the haze of smoke billowing from the burnt-out shops at Mahalaxmi Market in the Bhagirath Palace area, the largest wholesale markets for electrical and electronics in the country, policemen could be seen warning people against getting near the affected buildings.
"Don't stand so dangerously close. The building is still burning and might collapse anytime. If something happens to us it's okay but nothing should happen to you," a police personnel told a trader.
"Portions of a building collapsed and the AC compressors exploded. We are unable to go near the building," a fire department official, who did not wish to be named, told PTI.
According to DCP (North) Sagar Singh Kalsi, four to five buildings each housing 20 to 25 shops have been affected by the fire while three buildings collapsed during firefighting operations.
Amid bellowing cries, Sanjay Kumar, whose shop was completely burnt out, said, "Our entire shop is destroyed. We have suffered a loss of several crores. We are just waiting for the fire to douse. But I don't think anything is left." Among the lucky ones is Balwinder Singh who owns a shop opposite a burning building.
"As of now, our shop is safe. I got to know about the fire at around 11 pm on Thursday. My father was at the shop and he told me our shop is safe but I am here to check," he said.
Life in the outer lanes however moves on.
Traders in the busy commercial area of Chandni Chowk could be heard discussing the fire incident among themselves. "The fire hasn't doused yet," a trader told another.
According to the fire department, a call about the blaze was received at 9.19 pm on Thursday and 40 fire tenders were rushed to the spot. Currently, 22 fire tenders are engaged in the cooling process as the fire has been brought under control after over 12 hours, a fire department official said.
The fire that broke out at one shop soon spread to adjacent ones, all dealing in supplying electrical appliances, officials said.
Director of Delhi Fire Service Atul Garg on Friday told PTI, "Fire is under control. Now 22 fire tenders are working for cooling operations. However, the cause of the fire is not yet known." The fire officials said that weak structures, shortage of water and narrow lanes posed a major challenge for Delhi Fire Service to carry out its fire-fighting operations.
Garg on Thursday tweeted, "Fire in Chandni Chowk. Total 40 fire vehicles and 200-plus fire personnel were deployed. Major concern weak structures, shortage of water and narrow lane, building started collapsing." Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal expressed his grief over the incident and said he is taking stock of the situation from the district administration concerned."This incident of fire in Bhagirath Palace market of Chandni Chowk late last night is very sad. Since last night, the fire brigade personnel are working hard to douse the flames. I am taking information about this from district administration," he tweeted in Hindi.