17 yrs later, Uphaar tragedy still haunts fire dept ex-chief

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - METRO -

More than 17 years have passed since the Uphaar cin­ema fire tragedy in which 59 peo­ple were burnt alive and over 100 suf­fered se­ri­ous burns on June 13, 1997.

But the scenes of suf­fer­ing he wit­nessed then still haunt RC Sharma, for­mer di­rec­tor of Delhi Fire Ser­vice and deputy in­spec­tor gen­eral (fire) CISF, who termed it the ‘worst fire tragedy’ in his 40-year ca­reer.

In Lucknow to take part in a con­fer­ence on fire and dis­as­ter man­age­ment, the re­tired fire of­fi­cial, who at the time was the deputy chief fire of­fi­cer (CFO), Delhi, shared his ex­pe­ri­ences with HT.

The be­gin­ning of the day was un­usual, re­called Sharma. “In the morn­ing, we re­ceived a call from Uphaar the­atre re­gard­ing a mi­nor fire and smoke in the trans­former room. The flames were ex­tin­guished and the is­sue was re­solved,” he said.

But this small in­ci­dent, Sharma said, was just a warn­ing sign that was over­looked.

As per re­ports, of­fi­cials from Delhi Vidyut Board went down to the the­atre and car­ried out main­te­nance and re­pairs by 10:30am. Soon, the the­atre be­gan screen­ing the first show of JP Dutta’s bor­der. “It was in the mati­nee show that the phone rang again. It was a call from Uphaar cin­ema about the fire. But this time it was a ma­jor one,” said Sharma.

On reach­ing the spot, the team found that the fire had bro­ken out in the base­ment after a short-cir­cuit in the trans­former. At least 48 fire ten­ders were pressed into ser­vice.

“It took around an hour for us to com­bat the fire be­fore we went in,” said Sharma, who part of the res­cue op­er­a­tion that saved hun­dreds of lives.

But the scene inside was heart wrench­ing. Sev­eral spec­ta­tors could not find their way out and were choked to death, some were found dead on their seats, some along the gates, while were oth­ers were out in the ve­randa. A few, who had locked them­selves in the bath­room to es­cape the fire, were also dead.

HT PHOTO

RC Sharma, for­mer di­rec­tor of Delhi Fire Ser­vice and DIG (fire) CISF.

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