At 4pm on Wednesday, the building housing the Chennai Silks showroom in T Nagar had been on fire for nearly 12 hours.
Thick plumes of smoke emerged from the seven-storey building even as 15 fire tenders, three skylifts and multiple private water tankers worked on relentlessly to douse the fire.
While shops and buildings along south Usman Road were evacuated, the thick, grey smoke spread to several areas in the city.
And though the immediate priority is to stop the fire, concerns regarding the adverse effects of inhaling smoke directly needs to be addressed too.
"If someone inhales the smoke it can cause inhalation injury to the lung. The smoke can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning. For people with allergies, it can aggravate allergies and asthma. Direct inhalation of the smoke can even cause death by asphyxiation. People should try and cross ventilate their houses. Covering your face with a wet cloth can help to an extent,” said Dr Sumant Mantri, Senior Consultant, Pulmonologist and Sleep Medicine, Apollo Hospital, Bengaluru.
Dr R Narasimhan, senior pulmonologist at Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, said that people who have asthma are at an increased risk of getting affected from inhaling the smoke.
Those near the building or in the direct way of smoke run a risk of even catching pneumonia, asthma and other serious respiratory diseases.
"The pollutants in the smoke are most likely to be of the mixed kind. However, only a proper measurement of air quality can tell us what exactly does the smoke coming out of the building contain, depending on the kind of substances that were burnt," he said.
"Avoid the smoke. Go to a place where there's cleaner air. Look out for symptoms such as chest pain, cough, breathlessness and increased breathlessness in those with respiratory illness, etc." he added.
All kinds of smoke contain carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter/soot.
The New York state Health Department in its website advises people to avoid high levels of smoke. "Individuals are advised to limit their physical exertion if exposure to high levels of smoke cannot be avoided. Individuals with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions (e.g., asthma), fetuses, infants, young children, and the elderly may be more vulnerable to the health effects of smoke exposure."
TNM's Anna Issac and Priyanka Thirumurthy who were reporting from the T Nagar flyover, which faces the building, said that heavy winds were carrying the smoke in West Mambalam's direction.
"If you are standing in the direction of the smoke, it can be over powering. Some people here are wearing masks. But the areas in the vicinity of the building has been cleared," Anna said.
Sudaroli, who works in West Mambalam and regularly uses the local train service, said, "At the station, we could only see the approaching train at the end of the station. We could see thick smoke from the platform, and this was at around 4pm. It could come into the station soon too."
The West Mambalam railway station is at a distance of 600 to 800m from the Chennai Silks building.
The best thing now would be to not panic, ventilate to let the smoke out or, if possible, move outside the radius of smoke till it subsides. Children, senior citizens and those with a heart or lung related medical condition should maintain extra caution. Approach a doctor, if you experience breathlessness or feel uneasy.
(Inputs from Kannaki Deka and Ragamalika Karthikeyan)