• Losses pegged at Rs 500 crore
• Will not affect India-West Indies ODI to be held at Greenfield stadium, kilometres away from the spot
• Schools in 2-km radius given day off
• Govt to conduct probe
Thiruvananthapuram: A massive fire that broke out after twilight on Wednesday almost fully destroyed a five-storey manufacturing and storage facility of Family Plastics and Thermoware Ltd that operated within the industrial estate at Manvila here.
The fire, which began just before 7 pm on Wednesday, raged for nearly eight hours before subsiding by around 3 am Thursday. By then, the structure was fully gutted, and large sections of the unit crashed to the ground. The losses have been initially pegged at Rs 500 crore. The unit has been in operation since 1998.
There were no casualties. The fire reportedly began at the godown in the ground floor with a huge blast sound during shift change. The 120-odd workers who were just walking in for the night shift were able to quickly escape to a safer place. It also helped that it was an industrial area with not many houses around.
Not to affect ODI
Reports also said that the massive fire would not affect the fifth ODI between India-West Indies to be held at the Greenfield International stadium, which is barely kilometres away from the spot. Collector K Vasuki also said the fire accident would not affect the ODI, though she added that it was for the Kerala Cricket Association to take a final call.
Two people - Jayaram Raghu, 18, and Girish, 21 - who were in the vicinity felt uneasy after inhaling the toxic fumes of burnt plastic that spread from the building were rushed to the Medical College. They are said to be out of danger. Vasuki, who coordinated the rescue efforts, ordered that people in homes within the one-kilometre radius of the house be shifted. Mike announcements were taken out in the area asking people to evacuate. Only a handful of houses fell within the potential danger zone. These families shifted to the houses of relatives and friends before midnight.
By around 11 pm Wednesday, the Health Department began distributing masks to people in nearby areas. The exact reason for the fire has still not been ascertained, though short circuit was initially trotted out as the cause. A relatively small fire that was immediately put out was reported from the fifth storey of the very same building on October 29. Then, the losses were estimated at Rs 5 lakh.
Devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran, who was present at the site, said that a high-level probe will be instituted. A representative of Family Plastics has alleged arson.
More than 50 fire engines - from the capital district, Kollam and also from neighbouring Tamil Nadu - were pressed into service. A Panther, a state-of-the-art fire-fighting vehicle with considerable extinguishing power, was also summoned from the Airport unit here. No amount of concerted action seemed to have any effect in the initial four hours. When more blasts were heard from within the building and the fire kept billowing higher, the rescue team concentrated on preventing the fire from spreading to other buildings in the industrial area.
Since water availability was a major concern, government-owned and private tankers were asked to collect water from all major collection centres of Kerala Water Authority. The narrow roads leading to the raging building was the other big problem faced by the rescue team.