A low-income settlement in north Kolkata's Bagbazar area was turned into ashes as a major fire broke out on Wednesday evening, leaving hundreds of people homeless, officials said. 27 fire tenders took around four hours to control the blaze that broke out around 6.55 pm in the Hazari Bustee on Kshirode Vidyavinode Avenue beside the Bagbazar Women's College near the Chitpore Lock Gate Bridge, they said.
Consecutive gas cylinder blasts in the shanties further added to the blaze, which soon spread to adjacent buildings, including the heritage Sarada Mayer Bari and a godown of books, officials said
There were no reports of any casualty as most of the people were evacuated on time, they said.
"The entire Hazari Bustee has turned into ashes. The situation is now under control and cooling operations are underway. The entire slum, as well as the neighbouring buildings and residential houses, were evacuated on time," an officer of the Kolkata Police said.
The office of Sarada Mayer Bari, the residence of Sarada Devi -- the wife of 19th century Hindu mystic Ramakrishna, was severely damaged in the fire as police rescued four-five monks stuck inside, he said.
The exact cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained but going by the evidence an electrical short circuit is suspected, a fire department official said.
"A probe into the mishap will soon be initiated," he said.
"Electricity supply in the entire area was snapped. There are at least 40 families whose houses have been gutted in the fire. A godown of books is also gutted," the police officer said.
Locals alleged that firefighters reached the spot at least an hour late, because of which the blaze went out of control.
A couple of police vehicles were vandalised, following which a team of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) was deployed to control the irate mob, the officer said.
State Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim visited the site at night and assured people to rebuild their houses.
"The fire is under control. Those who have lost their houses will be provided shelter at nearby community halls and also at the Bagbazar Womens' College. We will also provide them with food. From tomorrow morning we will start clearing the place. Once it's complete, we will try to build shelters for those who have lost their homes," said Hakim, who is also the chief of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.
Disaster management teams of the Kolkata Police were also deployed to tackle the blaze that threw traffic out of gear during the evening rush hours.
Traffic movement on the Kshirode Vidyavinode Avenue as well as the Chitpore Lock Gate Bridge, the lifeline of the people living in the northern fringes of the city, was totally stopped, leading to massive snarls in the north and central Kolkata.
A Kolkata Traffic Police officer said that movement vehicles will be allowed in the area only after a clearance from the fire department, and electricity is restored.