Baramulla blaze. KO Photo by Yaqoob Lala.
Hours after rendered roofless, 35 families of the 20 households arrived to remove their half-burnt essentials from the smouldering rubbles they graced as homes barely some hours before.
NOORBAGH, Baramulla – The blaze was raging like a hellfire when Ibrahim Sultan woke up and stepped out wearing his slippers and an oversized T-shirt.
He was standing near the edge of his locality, witnessing the frenzied flames, smelling smoke and hearing the wailing emergency sirens.
The sky overhead had faintly turned glowing orange but a dark fog formed by the rising flames had rapidly smothered it.
But just before the wails would resonate on the night of June 10, the several matchbox structures of Sweeper Colony, Noorbagh Baramulla were either preparing to have their last meal of the day or retire to beds.
Just then the long night descended after a liquid petroleum gas (LPG) cylinder started to leak in one of the residences. A subsequent ignition, an explosion and a massive blaze engulfed the whole colony within no time.
A night after the blaze, Ibrahim turn up to see the pervasive sight of destruction in Noorbagh. Black walls are still emanating a bitter smoke. In the charred debris lies burnt bricks, beddings and books.
“Fire incidents aren’t new here,” Ibrahim says. “Such blazes erupt on either side of the colony every year. But what happened last night was a firestorm — engulfing lifetime savings and possessions in just a matter of minutes.”
Post-blaze, locals in Noorbagh accessing their house damages. KO Photo by Yaqoob Lala.
When fire engulfed the first house, the residents thought it was yet another small fire-siege.
But then, the wind gusted sharply and the flames of burning wood floated towards other houses through the air and within 2 or 3 minutes, the second structure was up in flames.
“Within 15 minutes, three residential houses were nowhere to be seen,” Ibrahim, the eye-witness, recalls. “They were all gone. It was raining ash everywhere.”
Amid the growing shrieks from the residents, others were desperately calling firemen.
“Even before the arrival of fire brigades would create a sense of calm, it was the local police that saved people from getting injured and also helped in dousing the fire,” Altaf A. Churoo, a resident of Noorbagh told Kashmir Observer.
One of the surprising things about the fire is how quickly it had spread.
Police believe that the wooden work inside the residential houses fueled the fire. The material is heavily flammable and burns much more slowly than lighter fluid or gasoline.
Within a few minutes, the holes started to melt through the panels of these structures, and the warm air inside the house rushed outward, igniting the panels and spreading the fire across the roofs.
The relative humidity, the wind speed and direction only propelled the fire straight toward other far located houses.
“After the first LPG spark,” a police officer part of the rescue mission says, “there were around 4 LPG gas cylinder blasts from various houses that further abetted the fire.”
Soon, it became obvious to the witnesses that the blaze was approaching from everywhere and that it was impossible to save the colony from that inferno.
“It was suddenly much darker,” Altaf continues. “Everyone had their flashlights and torches on. The sky above the blazing colony had become an orange ball but waning into absolute black. The plume from the fire had billowed upward and then fell earthward again. The burning sound was more ferocious than the flames.”
When the blaze thawed a bit due to “the joint efforts by the local youth, firemen, police and army”, everyone could feel their mind grinding against what happened, desperate to whittle it down into a simple explanation of what went wrong, who should be blamed, what could be learned.
There were many credible answers, specific mistakes to call out. But it was easy to worry that, given the scale of this particular disaster. The principal takeaways might be only humility and terror.
“No one can be blamed for this particular disaster,” a local standing in the backdrop of his gutted house says.
“If one would’ve visited this locality before this incident, it was clearly visible that there were no fire gaps maintained between residential structures and that was the reason why the fire blazed the whole of the colony.”
The blaze upshot renewed mourning at the crack of the dawn.
Wailing women, crying children and sobbing men arrived in droves to see a major portion of their colony lying under the heap of ash.
Some of them removed their half-burnt essentials from under the rubbles of their memories, checking the damage of the 20 residential houses that are no more visible. Around 35 families are left without a roof overhead.
“One victim of this blaze had been saving for the last 10 years for his daughter’s wedding,” Ibrahim says. “And now, that money, the newly bought wedding clothes, their dreams, everything has been turned into ash just like their house.”
To provide relief to the victims of this blaze, the Baramulla administration has asked the Tehsildar, Accounts Officer, Revenue Officer, and Senior Police Officers to review the damage and estimate the relief cost.
“We’ll provide compensation to these families as soon as possible,” Ghulam Mohammad Chopan, Naib Tehsildar Baramulla told Kashmir Observer.
“For now, these victims have been provided temporary shelter by the administration with all essential services like food and medical attention in neighbouring parts of Noorbagh, Baramulla.”
Even though there wasn’t any damage to human life and all the affected families are together, they still feel trapped.
The slight smoke blooming erratically around the rumble of houses, the impregnable riot of burned walls, charred woods and excessive heat are enough to keep on traumatising the wailing victims, maybe forever.
Govt To Cover Victims Under SDRF, PMAY Scheme
The Jammu and Kashmir administration on Friday provided a relief of Rs 50,000 each to the Noorbagh blaze victims and announced to cover the affected families under the state disaster relief fund (SDRF) and the centrally sponsored Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY).
The announcement regarding it was made by J&K Lieutenant Governor’s Advisor Baseer Ahmad Khan, who paid a visit to Noorbagh Baramulla on Friday and assured the fire affected families of support by the LG- led dispensation.
The Advisor provided cheques worth Rs 50,000 among each affected family as an immediate relief and also announced one month free ration among the victim families, an official spokesperson said Friday. Khan, he said, also assured that more financial support shall be provided out of the Disaster Management Fund and under other similar schemes.
“Furthermore, the Advisor directed the Deputy Commissioner to undertake a holistic assessment so that they can be covered under PMAY housing scheme and SDRF relief. He also directed to ensure that every type of possible assistance is provided to ameliorate their sufferings,” the official spokesperson said.
On the occasion, he said, the Advisor was apprised about the condition and the issues these families are facing in the aftermath of the incident.
“The Advisor gave a patient hearing to the sufferers and assured that every possible support shall be provided for their immediate rehabilitation. He said that the Lieutenant Governor is personally monitoring the relief and rehabilitation of the affected families,” the official spokesperson said.
The fire victims, he said, thanked the LG and his Advisor for their personal intervention and their efforts to extend immediate relief to the sufferers.
Meanwhile, the Divisional Commissioner (Div Com) Kashmir, Pandurang K Pole accompanied by Deputy Commissioner Baramulla Bhupinder Kumar, SSP Rayees Ahmad Bhat and other concerned functionaries also visited the fire affected families, the official spokesperson said.
The Div Com, he said, took first hand appraisal of the situation during which the fire victims apprised the advisor about their condition besides extending their issues and demands. Pole, he said, gave a patient hearing and assured that every kind of possible support shall be provided for their immediate rehabilitation.
“Meanwhile, P K Pole directed the Deputy Commissioner to conduct a proper assessment of the damage so that the victims are rehabilitated under different welfare programmes sponsored by the administration,” the official spokesperson said, adding “He also directed to provide essential items as an immediate relief and take appropriate measures for their time being shelter,”
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