Srinagar- At around 9:30 on the night of March 4, 2022, Ghulam Mohammad Ganaie of Pulwama was attending to his brother, Khizr Ganaie, at Ward No. 15 of Bone and Joint (B&J) Hospital, when he saw an adjacent building in flames.
The fire was spreading so fast that Ganie, 56, thought that there was no way out, and that the patients along with their attendants and medical staff would be roasted alive.
“We couldn’t understand how flames erupted so fast,” Ganaie told Kashmir Observer at JVC Bemina, where his brother is undergoing treatment.
“But somehow I decided to evacuate my brother from the hospital.”
Following Ganaie’s timely exit from the ward, the watch and ward of the hospital along with the local volunteers began the evacuation process.
The nocturnal blaze was caught on cameras and was streamed live in the living rooms across Kashmir.
By the next dawn, the fire had damaged a major portion of the building infrastructure. However, there was no casualty reported as all the patients were evacuated and shifted to some other city hospitals, including SKIMS Bemina.
Recalling the night of horror, Ganaie said there was chaos and panic all over the hospital as the fire was spreading amid the blasts of oxygen cylinders.
“While everybody was rushing out with their patients, the lifts stopped working,” he recalled.
“People were wailing and crying. We thought we would be charred alive.”
Genaie’s brother was admitted to the hospital after suffering a leg injury. He was operated on, and was under medical observation in the hospital.
In the Ward No. 01 of JVC, bed ridden Khizr Ganaie recalled how he wished to get up and run like others to save his life when flames reached his ward.
“But I couldn’t move,” he said. “I was totally helpless.”
He was lifted by his attendant brother on his shoulders and was taken out of the ward which was soon engulfed by flames.
“It was Karbala in the corridors of the hospital,” Khizr recalled.
“The patients and the attendants were wailing and crying to save their lives.”
In the same ward of the B&J Hospital, Mohammad Yusuf Dar of Ganderbal was admitted for his fractured leg.
“I could smell the fire before it spread,” Yusuf said.“I did tell my son that something had been put on fire, but we didn’t know what.”
It was only after some doctors came running to their ward and informed them about the burning hospital that they came out.
“There was panic all around,” Yusuf’s attendant son, Majid Dar, told Kashmir Observer.
“People were running helter-skelter to save their lives. I, along with my brother, lifted our father in our arms and managed to get him out of the hospital.”
For the next two hours, Majid said, they were stranded on Barzulla bridge before being shifted to the SKIMS.
“There was a fleet of ambulances there, but the rush was so overwhelming that we couldn’t manage even one for our father,” Majid said.
It was only after some of his relatives in Srinagar reached Barzulla that Yusuf along with his sons was shifted to the JVC hospital.
Amid reminiscences of the ‘blazing’ night, most of the patients and their attendants hailed the role of locals for saving their lives by risking their own lives.
These young volunteers rushed and helped the hospital staff to evacuate the patients from all wards and units amid raging flames and suffocating smoke.
“The people of Srinagar saved us,” said Nazir Ahmad Bhat of Shopian.
“I saw many young men rushing into the hospital braving fire to save the lives of patients.”
At the same time, over two dozen fire tenders were rushed to the spot for dousing flames. The intense flare was brought under control after several hours of firefighting.
Dr. Mian Suhail Sultan, Medical Superintendent of the B&J Hospital, told Kashmir Observer that fire damaged the emergency operation theatre in the third floor, medical rooms and 12-bedded spinal centre.
Rest everything else is safe, Dr. Suhail said. “We managed to evacuate all the patients.”
Due to an oxygen cylinder blast, the medical superintendent said, a wall of the building got damaged, which created panic.
“It was difficult to mobilise and evacuate patients with broken bones,” Dr. Suhail said.
“And that’s why it took us some time to clear the hospital premises.”
When asked why wasn’t the fire safety audits and adequate measures taken, the B&J Hospital’s Medical Superintendent said, “Everything was done.”
However, the Health and Medical Education Department said that reasons as to why the incident happened despite “regular fire safety audits and adequate measures” are being ascertained.
Even Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, Mohammad Aijaz Asad, said investigations to ascertain the cause of the fire are underway.
“Once the report is received,” he said, “we will be in a better position to say what sparked the fire.”
Meanwhile at JVC, Ghulam Mohammad Ganaie termed the Friday night fire incident as the nightmarish experience for the poor patients.
“We’re lucky to be alive right now,” Ganaie said. “Hadn’t volunteers joined the rescue operation on time, there certainly would have been a big human loss.”
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