Eight people were killed while 10 others were injured after a major fire broke out in the cellar of an electric bike showroom in a building spread to a hotel located above it in Telangana’s Secunderabad police said on Tuesday.
According to the police, the incident happened at the Ruby Pride Hotel around 9.40 pm on Monday. The basement and ground floor of the five-storey building house a showroom of Gemopai e-bikes, while the top four floors have been converted into a hotel.
Owners of both hotel and the e-bike showroom were arrested after a case of culpable homicide and negligence were filed against them at Market police station.
“There were 25 people in the hotel when the fire erupted in the basement of the building where the brand-new electric scooters were parked and engulfed the entire building,” Hyderabad police commissioner CV Anand told reporters. “The fire spread to the first and second floors of the hotel within minutes.”
Some of the guests at the hotel fell unconscious due to suffocation caused by thick plumes of smoke and were charred to death, the commissioner said. “Some people jumped from the building and were rescued by locals,” Anand said. “They were rushed to the Gandhi hospital.”
According to the preliminary investigation, the fire broke out in the cellar of the hotel, where at least 50 new e-bikes were parked, said the commissioner. Prima facie it appears that “lithium-ion batteries of the bikes were being charged at the time of accident, but the exact cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained”, said the police commissioner.
There were gas cylinders, electric bikes, open batteries, generators and petrol bikes in the cellar, said North zone deputy commissioner of police (DCP) Chandana Deepthi, who visited the site on Tuesday morning.
“The exact cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained. We don’t even know whether there was any explosion of the batteries or cylinders,” she said. “We have asked the forensic science laboratory (FSL) to probe into the cause of the explosion. The electricity department and the fire department were also asked to find out the cause of the fire.”
Additional director general of fire services Sanjay Kumar said prima facie, there was a clear case of violation of fire safety norms by the building owners. “The building has permission only for four floors, but the builder has built an additional floor,” Kumar said. “There is only one exit and entry route for the hotel building. As a result, the occupants could not come out immediately as the fire engulfed the entry-exit point, thereby blocking the route for escaping. Many occupants got trapped inside.”
Following an alert by one of the occupants of the hotel who escaped the mishap, the Market police rushed to the spot along with five fire tenders, which began fire-fighting operations within half an hour.
“But by that time, the fire engulfed the entire building, resulting in the casualties,” the commissioner said.
While the rescue teams recovered five charred bodies from the debris after extinguishing the fire, three others among the rescued succumbed to burns while undergoing treatment at a private hospital, officials said. The deceased were identified as Alladi Harish (33) from Vijayawada, Veerendra Kumar (50) from Delhi, Sitaraman (48) from Chennai, Balaji (58) from Chennai, Rajeev M (26) from Delhi, Sandeep Malik from Delhi, police said, adding that two other deceased, including a woman, have not been identified yet.
“The condition of Jayanth (39), who is undergoing treatment at Apollo Hospitals, is critical,” a senior police officer said, adding that another 10 people who sustained serious burn injuries are undergoing treatment at Gandhi, Apollo and Yashoda Hospitals.
Based on a complaint by one of the occupants of the hotel, the Market police registered a first information report (FIR) against the owners if the hotel and the e-bike showroom, identified as Rajender Singh Bugga and Sumeet Singh, police said.
“We booked cases under sections 304 (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 337 (causing hurt by doing an act of negligence as to endanger human life) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and Section 9b of the Explosives Act 1884 against the management of the lodge,” said Market police inspector Y Nageshwara Rao.
A senior police officer said the accused have been taken into custody and are likely to be produced before a court on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Telangana minister KT Rama Rao condoled the loss of lives and announced ex gratia on behalf of the Centre and the state government, respectively.
“Saddened by the loss of lives due to a fire in Secunderabad, Telangana. Condolences to the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon. ₹2 lakh from PMNRF would be paid to the next of kin of each deceased. ₹50,000 would be paid to the injured,” Modi tweeted.
Telangana urban development and municipal administration minister Rao announced that the state government would provide an ex gratia of ₹3 lakh to the families of the deceased.
Sai Kiran, a local resident, said it took 30-40 minutes for the fire tenders to arrive at the scene. “I and a few others rushed to the spot and started rescuing the occupants before the fire tenders arrived. We could rescue at least 10 people,” he said.
Man Mohan Khanna (48), one of the survivors in the accident, said he had come to the hotel to meet his colleague Rajesh Chabbra from Surat in Gujarat working in a pharma company.
“We went upstairs to have dinner at the fifth floor of the hotel at about 9.35 pm. Soon, we heard some screaming from hotel staff and noticed flames and smoke coming from the ground floor where the hotel management is running Gemopai electric scooters showroom,” he said.
“I along with four others escaped from the terrace by jumping on the terrace of the adjacent Yatri Hotel,” he said.
State minister Talasani Srinivas Yadav, along with Hyderabad police commissioner, director general of fire department Sanjay Kumar Jain, regional fire officer V Papaiah and other top officials visited the spot and supervised the rescue operations. Home minister Mohammad Mahmood Ali also visited the spot late in the night.
Describing it as an unfortunate incident, Srinivas Yadav said all the injured were being provided the best treatment. “Those who were staying in the lodge were people who had come to the city from other places for work,” he said, adding that a high-level inquiry had been ordered into the incident.