Eleven people were killed on Wednesday as a massive fire broke out at a firecracker manufacturing unit-cum-warehouse in Telangana's Warangal Rural district on Wednesday. The impact of the blast was such that the entire unit was razed to the ground and the bodies were charred beyond recognition. But as the police and firefighters rushed to the spot, they were faced with a tough challenge not directly related to the fire: curious bystanders were clicking photos and taking videos, and blocking the rescue operations in the process.
While the blasts triggered panic among residents, who ran for safety, people soon started rushing towards the site as senior officials of the district administration launched rescue and relief operations.
According to officials, several people went dangerously close to the site of the accident, taking pictures and shooting videos, even putting their own lives at risk.
A report in The New Indian Express states that some took selfies to post on social media, even as the crowd made it difficult for ambulances and fire engines to access the accident site.
Speaking to TNM, Deputy Fire Officer Bhagwan Reddy, who was at the spot on Wednesday, said, "More than 1,500 to 2,000 people gathered at the spot soon after the accident. They approached the site and stood there as mere spectators. Thankfully, fire fighting engines got enough time and space to access the site as there was an open ground. We deployed six vehicles and managed to control the fire within 2 hours."
Police officers also say that this is a common phenomenon observed during road accidents and when fire breaks out.
While curiosity is common in such instances and a crowd tends to gather around an accident site, it only ends up doing more harm than good.
Besides being a hindrance to rescue and relief operations, what bystanders need to understand is that they could also be destroying potential evidence without realising it.
Speaking to TNM, Mamnoor ACP Shoban Kumar said, "In such situations, it is a big hindrance to the police, as we don't do investigation and collect evidence until the situation is first diffused. At this point, if these civilians come in and disturb the site out of curiosity, it is very difficult to handle them. They don't understand the scientific importance of not contaminating the scene and collecting evidence."
"Only out of curiosity they are doing this. They don't stand to gain anything and we didn't even understand why they are taking photos. They are not going to be useful to investigating officials," he added.
In this specific case, the incident was potentially life-threatening as authorities said that there was unexploded material still lying around, after the first blast.
The first blast that ripped through was so powerful that mangled bodies were found a few hundred metres away from the site.
The ACP said, "It is difficult and dangerous. There was still some explosive material left at the site but the bystanders kept going closer and closer. Someone might have gotten injured or even died."
The police officer said that people were trying to slip through even though they had cordoned off the site and given strict orders against moving too close.
What bystanders should do in case of a fire
So what can bystanders do in such situations? Firstly, make an emergency call if you can. And after that, stay out of their way. The best thing for people to do in case they find themselves near an emergency site, is to obey instructions given by the authorities and offer them their full cooperation.
Officers who respond to such emergency situations often have a protocol in place, which includes rushing those in need of medical treatment into ambulances while simultaneously diffusing any potential threat at the accident site.
Bystanders should definitely NOT rush towards the site just for the sake of capturing a few visuals. This makes it harder for officials at the site and could also cause loss of lives.
"In such incidents, the public should cooperate with all authorities and listen to them, whether it is the police, fire officials or even the electricity department, which plays a crucial role in cutting off power in cases of snapped wires. If they disturb the scene, we will not be able to establish the facts and ascertain why the incident occurred," the senior police officer said.