Fire at Pune's Serum Institute of India leaves five dead; Covishield production unaffected, says CEO Adar Poonawalla

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is set to visit the facility to take stock of the situation tomorrow. The Maharashtra govt has also ordered a probe into the cause of the fire

FP Staff January 21, 2021 22:31:26 IST
Fire at Pune's Serum Institute of India leaves five dead; Covishield production unaffected, says CEO Adar Poonawalla

A fire broke out SII's Pune facility on Thursday. ANI

Five people were left dead after a blaze broke out at the Serum Institute of India (SII) facility in Pune's Manjari on Thursday, according to several media reports. The company has announced a compensation of Rs 25 lakh for the kin of each of the deceased.

Another minor fire broke out around 7 pm on the third floor of the same building and was brought under control, reports said.

Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar visited the facility on Thursday night and said, "Among the five, two were from Pune, two from Uttar Pradesh and one from Bihar."

"Though the fire has been doused now, a team of fire brigade, police and officials from district administration is still at the site," said Pawar, who is also the guardian minister of Pune district.

Pawar added that fire and energy audits of the affected facility will be carried out on Friday.

Pune mayor Murlidhar Mohol said the bodies have been recovered from the affected floor by firefighters. While the identities of the deceased have not yet been confirmed, Mohol was quoted by reports as saying that they could be construction workers. Nine others were evacuated by firefighters.

The SII, which is manufacturing the 'Covishield' COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca, said that the production of the vaccine will not be affected by the fire.

"I would like to reassure all governments & the public that there would be no loss of #COVISHIELD production due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies at @SerumInstIndia," SII CEO Adar Poonawalla tweeted.

SII factory manager Vivek Pradhan was quoted by The Indian Express as saying that "the floor where the fire broke out was a rota-virus lab and that "there was no stock of Covishield".

Uddhav Thackeray to visit SII facility tomorrow

Meanwhile, Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray is likely to visit the SII facility tomorrow.

Addressing a press conference on Thursday evening, Uddhav said that preliminary information shows that the fire was caused "due to an electric fault during the on-going construction work" in the building.

He added that fire brigade officials "have worked on a war footing to bring the fire under control".

Additionally, Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, who visited the facility on Thursday night, took stock of the situation soon after the fire broke out.

The team of district officials who will conduct the probe into the incident is likely to be headed by the Pune district collector Rajesh Deshmukh, CNN-News18 reported.

"I have taken information from the Pune Municipal Corporation about the incident and instructed locals officials to carry out a detailed probe into the fire," Pawar said.

During his visit on Thursday night, Pawar said it is difficult to speculate on how the fire broke out and added a different team will launch an
investigation on Friday to find out the cause.

"Initially, it was told that there was no human loss. The reason behind it was that all employees of the SII were safe. However, on last two floors, some contractual workers were doing their work," he added.

Pawar said there is 99 percent possibility that there is no casualty beyond five. "We are not saying 100 percent because right now
there is no light and smoke is still emanating from the (top) floor," he said.

"I was told that after the fire broke out, water sprinklers fitted in the building, were activated. However, considering the fire's intensity, the water sprinklers were of no use," Pawar added.

"Investigators will check whether due safety measures were taken or not...or whether guidelines related to SEZs were followed or not," he said. Some people are saying that the fire took place due to welding works which were going on in the facility, Pawar said.

"However, all these discussions are based on hearsay. Only a detailed investigation will ascertain if sparks emanating during welding works caused the fire," he added.

PTI quoted sources as saying that SII's Manjari facility is where the Covishield vaccine, which is being used in the nationwide inoculation drive since 16 January, is made. The report added that the building where the fire broke out is part of the under-construction site of the SII facility and is one kilometre away from the Covishield manufacturing unit.

Modi, Harsh Vardhan, Rahul Gandhi condole deaths

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, President Ram Nath Kovind, and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi were among those who expressed grief over the deaths at the SII facility.

Vardhan tweeted, "Anguished to learn about the unfortunate news of loss of lives due to the fire break out at @SerumInstIndia's facility in Pune. My thoughts & prayers with the bereaved families. Appreciate efforts of @PuneCityPolice & Fire Department to bring the fire under control."

Poonawalla, who had initially stated that no casualties had been reported, condoled the deaths after the information was reported.

"We have just received some distressing updates; upon further investigation we have learnt that there has unfortunately been some loss of life at the incident. We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed," he said.

Kovind wished a speedy recovery for the injured.

Meanwhile, Rahul referred to reports of the second fire and called it "extremely worrying".

Union minister Som Parkash and Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot also condoled the deaths.

Meanwhile, NCP president Sharad Pawar termed the fire at the SII premises as "very tragic and unfortunate" and condoled the death of five people in the incident.

The fire, which broke out at 2.45 pm on the fourth and fifth floors of the SEZ 3 building in the Serum Institute premises, was brought under control in two hours, police said.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Namrata Patil told PTI that nine people were evacuated from the spot after the fire broke out.

Viral visuals from the site showed smoke billowing out from the Serum Institute facility.

Chief Fire Officer Prashant Ranpise said fifteen water tankers were pressed into action and the fire was brought under control around 4.30 pm.

The Indian Express also reported that a team of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was sent to the spot from Talegaon on the outskirts of Pune.

"The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained. Furniture, wiring, cabins were gutted. No major machinery or instruments were stored on the floors where the fire broke out," he said.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date:

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