Delhi’s record of 150 deaths due to fires in 2019 is city’s highest toll in five years

Fatalities in blazes — be it in residential buildings, commercial structures or in vehicles — in the national capital were higher in 2019 than in any of the last five years. A total of 150 persons died in fire-related incidents last year, up from 145 in 2018, showed National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data. The previous three years had reported relatively much fewer deaths at 64, 88 and 114, respectively.

The death toll rose last year mainly due to two big fires – a factory fire in north Delhi’s Anaj Mandi that left 43 dead on December 8, and a blaze in central Delhi’s Hotel Arpit Palace that killed 17 on February 12. The two massive blazes aside, 2019 had the highest number of fire incidents in Delhi in the last 10 years. “In 2019, we attended 943 fire calls of which 100 turned fatal. It is the highest number of calls we attended in the last decade. The previous highest was in 2012 when we attended 776 fire calls,” said Atul Garg, Director, Delhi Fire Services.

Also, in 2019, as many as 16 persons died in fires in cars or other vehicles. Among the incidents that hit headlines was the one on March 10, when a woman and her two minor children were charred when the car they were driving caught fire in east Delhi’s Anand Vihar. The previous highest for vehicle fires in the last five years was in 2015 when 13 commuters died. “We have noticed that most of these blazes occur as vehicles are either not maintained well, or they get poor quality CNG cylinders fitted in their vehicles,” Garg said.

The number of deaths in residential buildings (95) and in commercial buildings (22) were also the highest in the last five years. The previous highest deaths in residential buildings were in 2018 when 64 people were killed. For deaths in commercial structures, 2016 was the second worst year when seven persons had died.

SK Dheri, former DFS chief, said as long as building bylaws are bypassed and fire safety norms neglected, deaths will keep happening. “The Anaj Mandi deaths were due to illegal use of a residential building, the Hotel Arpit Palace deaths were because of disregard for safety rules. The situation will not improve unless exemplary punishments are handed out and large fines imposed by enforcement agencies,” he said.