MUMBAI: The Lake Lucerne fire has once again exposed poor prevention awareness among residents and society managements. The fire started in an air-conditioner unit whose circuit failed probably because of prolonged use or the connecting wires suffered short-circuit because of overload. The burning unit fell onto a sofa kept underneath it. The sofa was made of polyurethane foam, a highly inflammable material and one that releases copious quantities of deadly carbon monoxide. The heat set PNG gas pipes ablaze, literally adding fuel to the fire. The rest was done by wind, which easily fanned the flames on the 14th floor, which leapt to the floor above.
"The fire spread rapidly because of the sofa and beds made of polyurethane foam," said a preliminary inquiry report by the state's electrical and fire experts. "Increased load on wires of a power-consuming device like an AC and bad maintenance of wire networks may have led to sparking in the AC unit, resulting in the fire."
Late action by residents in cutting off PNG (piped natural gas) supply added to the intensity of the fire. Also, gas was released, which combined with carbon monoxide from burning furniture and smoke to suffocate escaping people. Worse, the power supply was switched off without warning, which stalled lifts with people in them; they died of suffocation. Again, fire extinguishers weren't used.
Experts say prevention is the need of the hour. "There is a need for six-monthly or at least annual fire audits, home inspections and awareness programmes. The government must not delay in passing the relevant law," said a fire brigade official. "Also, besides polyurethane, several inflammable substances are used to make furniture and household goods. The choice of material may be unavoidable in some cases, but residents must know of this and strike a balance in their choice of fittings, devices and gadgets to prevent spread just in case fire breaks out."
Chief fire officer P S Rahangdale said such items make fires deadlier, making rescue operations difficult.
Residents will then have to compulsorily get their wire networks audited from a government-appointed panel of auditors. Fees will be fixed by the government depending on the extent of an audit. While such auditors will be for residential buildings, industrial and commercial complexes will be inspected by other state government engineers.