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Fire at PCA
Akash Ghai and Kulwinder Sangha
Tribune Reporters

Smoke billowing out of the fourth floor of the PCA in Mohali on Saturday.
Smoke billowing out of the fourth floor of the PCA in Mohali on Saturday. — Tribune photo by Vicky Gharu

Mohali, February 9
A major fire broke out at the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) stadium here this afternoon completely gutting its top floor and damaging property worth crores. There was, however, no loss of life.

The fire broke out at around 1 o’clock and was apparently caused by a stray spark flying off the welding equipment in use during an ongoing renovation work on the floor. It spread across 11,000 sq ft within minutes fanned by the wind and the highly inflammable material lying on the floor and lining the walls and false ceiling.

A view of the gutted floor at the PCA Stadium in Mohali on Saturday.
A view of the gutted floor at the PCA Stadium in Mohali on Saturday.

There were no visitors there as it was under renovation, but the 25 to 30 construction workers barely saved their life by running down the stairs. As panic spread, another 100 workers, who were working in other parts of the building, rushed down into the open. Half-a-dozen workers were trapped when the fire engulfed the staircase, but were pulled out from the other side.

Black smoke began billowing out of the fourth floor, the topmost one in the building housing the AC lounge for VIPs and commentary boxes. Residents living kilometers away could see the smoke cloud from the building. The fire continued to rage for over 2 hours and it took almost a dozen fire tenders to bring it under control.

A non-functional water hydrant outside the stadium.
A non-functional water hydrant outside the stadium. — Tribune photos by 
Vicky Gharu

The security staff of the stadium was the first one to reach the floor. They broke the outer windows on the floor to allow the smoke to get out. Shockingly, the fire-fighting arrangements of the PCA, including the alarm system and hydrants, failed to operate.

The PCA authorities also failed to react quickly to the situation. The fire brigade was called almost 20 minutes after the fire, till which time major damage had been done.

Two fire engines from Mohali that reached the scene lacked facilities to tackle fires in high-rise buildings, but firemen managed to bring the flames under control. The fire-dousing efforts got underway with the arrival of five advanced fire engines from Chandigarh. Two of these fire engines had the sky-lift facility to access high structures. Later, fire engines from Mandi Gobindgarh, Rajpura and Khanna also arrived on the scene.

The flames left the entire floor wrecked. The false ceiling and tin supports holding it together were strewn on the floor, which was a heap of soot. The burnt wires within the walls were hanging from the ceiling.

Asked for his assessment of the loss due to the fire, CEO PCA, Brig G.S. Sandhu (retd) said renovation was being done on the fourth floor and metal structures were being pulled down. “The fire only helped completing the task,” he said.




It could have been worse
Akash Ghai and Kulwinder Sangha
Tribune Reporters

n The smoke alarm did not go off even when the fourth floor was engulfed in flames
n The sprinkler system and fire hydrants failed to operate

Records safe

The PCA records were saved as the firemen doused the flames before the fire could engulf the office area located on the fourth floor. “We had taken out important documents and other office equipment and shifted these to a safe place,” a PCA official said.

Insurance for Rs 47 cr

The stadium stands insured for a whopping Rs 47 crore. Since the renovation work was under process and existing structures had to be removed, the damage caused by the fire was of little concern. “The fire has eased our job,” quipped a PCA official.

Mohali, February 9
The fire-fighting system at the PCA Stadium came a cropper today, exposing not just its lack of preparation to deal with emergency situations, but also sheer indifference towards human life.

The fire-fighting system of one of the most advanced cricket stadiums in the world failed when a major fire broke out on the top floors of the main building of the stadium during renovation.

The smoke alarm in the building did not go off even when the entire fourth floor was engulfed by flames. The fire dousing sprinkler system also failed to operate. To the shock of firemen, the fire hydrants were also non-functional.

According to eyewitnesses, the fire office was informed about 25 minutes after the fire broke out. Untrained securitymen at the PCA wasted time in trying to deal with the fire themselves. “We did not know how to douse the fire. There have been no mock drills,” said a security guard at the PCA.

“After seeing the flames and smoke, I rushed to the floor along with three other PCA staff members. We tried to douse the flames with fire extinguishers, but the fire went out of control because of the wind and the inflammable material lying nearby,” said Kashmir Singh, another security guard at the stadium.

It took more than two hours to take control of the fire and 11 fire engines were summoned from Mohali, Chandigarh, Khanna, Rajpura and Mandi Gobindgarh.

“Had the system worked, the fire could have been controlled much earlier,” said Lakhvinder Singh, assistant divisional fire officer, Mohali.

“Fortunately, no casualty occurred. Had such kind of incident happened during a match, the loss could be well imagined,” said Lakhvinder Singh.

On the failure of the system, the PCA CEO, G.S. Sandhu, said, “We had switched off the power connection and that’s why the sprinklers did not work. The system started working when it was connected to the generator.” He claimed that the stadium had got a certificate from the fire brigade authorities, stating that the fire-fighting system was in order.

But Lakhvinder Singh said the certificate was given only for the outer area of the stadium, and not for the internal set-up. “Also, it seems that the internal fire safety measures were not maintained properly,” he said.

Other than the main gate, there was no entry in the stadium for the fire engines, he said. Inside the gate, the turning area for the fire engines was not enough.

More than three fire engines could not come inside, Lakhvinder added.

Lakhvir Singh, a Chandigarh-based architect, said at places where thousands of persons gather for sporting events, there should be more open area. The ADFO, Mohali, pointed out that employees of the stadium were also not trained to react to the fire or an emergency situation. “No precautions were taken by the PCA employees before rushing in to douse the fire,” he said.

A similar fire incident had happened at the Sector 16 Cricket Stadium four days before a match between India and Australia on October 8. Due to a short circuit in an air-conditioner, the dining hall of the newly built media centre building had been gutted.



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