Hindustan Times (Lucknow)
17 yrs later, Uphaar tragedy still haunts fire dept ex-chief
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.