The massive blaze that consumed the Chennai Silks showroom in Panagal Park has been a disaster not only in terms of heavy property losses, but also in terms of the massive amounts of water used to combat the blaze.
According to Revenue Minister Udayakumar, 85 water tankers had to be deployed to fight the flames that have still not been fully extinguished more than 31 hours after the fire began. While 75 water tankers had been deployed till 10pm on Wednesday night, around 10 more tankers had been called in till Thursday morning.
According to officials, most Metrowater tankers possess a capacity between 6,000 to 9,000 litres. By those calculations, somewhere between 5,10,000 and 7,65,000 litres of water have been poured onto the building in around one-and-half-days.
What is deeply tragic is that this massive expenditure of the Chennai Metrowaterâ€™s precious supplies has come at a time when the city is reeling under a severe water scarcity, which has left around 3.5 lakh households struggling for water.
According to reports, with the combined storage of Chennaiâ€™s reservoir falling abysmally to less than 3% of the total capacity, last Wednesday saw Metrowater tankers making an astounding 6,800 supply runs in a single day.
Experts and fire officials say that the massive blaze was able to get so far out of control as the building had violated many fire safety norms, and this had made it much harder for fire and rescue personnel to access and control the fire in time.
One of the main problems was the buildingâ€™s lack of ventilation, which filled the interiors with thick, heavy black smoke that prevented firefighters from entering the building and tackling the flame up close. On Wednesday afternoon, they finally had to use a crane to break down parts of the faĂ§ade of the building so that it could be ventilated and the fire could be controlled.
Another major problem was the lack of space in which to manoeuvre firefighting vehicles and equipment, as the building had ignored norms on the setback space required for this purpose. For much of Wednesday morning and afternoon, firefighters thus had to resort to spraying the building from atop the T Nagar flyover which runs right next to the building.
Although the flames seemed to be coming under control on Wednesday night, a major setback came when the interior structure, massively weakened by the flames, started collapsing at around 3am. As a result, firefighters had to slow down the water spraying operation, as they were apprehensive that the forceful spraying of water might cause more of the building to collapse.