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Exclusive: Kamala Mills fire probe reveals blaze began at Mojo's Bistro, spread to 1Above; both ran illegal hookah bars

The preliminary investigation report conducted by the Mumbai Fire Brigade into the deadly inferno that engulfed two posh restaurants at Kamala Mills compound concluded that the fire started from a hookah at Mojo's Bistro and then spread to 1Above. The fire took place on 29 December 2017 and claimed 14 lives.

 Exclusive: Kamala Mills fire probe reveals blaze began at Mojos Bistro, spread to 1Above; both ran illegal hookah bars

View from the street after fire broke out in a building in Mumbai. PTI

The report stated that although a watchman had guided the trapped people towards the passageway to escape from the raging flames, it turned out to be blocked, forcing those escaping to seek refuge in a nearby toilet. It is not yet known which of the two restaurants blocked the passageway.

The report which was completed within a week of the fire was done by four senior fire officers. Both the restaurants were running illegal hookah bars, the report said.

The report has detailed accounts of 14 eyewitnesses, and other eyewitnesses' tweets and interviews to news channels.

According to the report, although a few people suspected danger and did not take refuge in the toilet, the rest who went in died due to asphyxiation. Guests at the Mojo's Bistro could escape as it was not packed and was open in the top while those at 1Above, which was packed at that time, weren't so fortunate.

The 15-page report claimed that the fire department is also in possession of video evidence of the sequence of events.

The report was submitted to BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta.

Speaking to Firstpost, Mehta said, "In the report from the fire department that I received today, there are three important things — the start location of the fire, the cause of the fire and how it spread. The fire started at Mojo's Bistro and it began from a hookah. It spread because of the illegal tarpaulin and bamboo frame above and also because of other flammable substances. The fire escape route was blocked because of which people could not escape. I will complete my investigation in two weeks and hand over the final report to the state government."

"From the moment I started the investigation, I am under tremendous pressure from prominent individuals not to act against 18 to 20 hotels and pubs that are running illegally," the BMC commissioner said. While Mehta declined to name any of them, he stated that he will take "stern action" against them.

The report mentioned the following factors as responsible for the rapid spread of the fatal blaze:

  • Large stock of combustible material such as bamboos, plywood sheets, cotton and nylon curtains, plastic and tarpaulin sheets, liquor bottles and draught beer kegs, flex material among many others
  • Serving of hookah at both Mojo's Bistro and 1Above restaurants, stock of combustible hookah ingredients and use of burning charcoal
  • Use of synthetic cloth materials for decoration
  • Liquor bottles and tin cans lying on the serving tables and counters
  • Erection of temporary sheds/ structures made of combustible materials in the restaurants
  • Wind velocity and direction at the open terrace area
  • Lack of segregation between the two restaurants ("continuous structure")
  • At the time of the incident, not a single employee of either restaurant raised alarm and intimated the fire brigade or "members of the public", which caused delay in the fire brigade's arrival

Using the process of elimination, the report ruled out the following causes for the fire to start:

  • Incendiarism or sabotage — lack of clinching evidence or eyewitness account to support this cause
  • Arson — No smell or evidence of of flammable liquids other than alcohol, no eyewitness statement claiming foul play
  • Chemical reaction auto-ignition and spontaneous combustion — No chemicals were found stored in the premises except required commodities
  • Electricity — No electrical appliance or wiring found near origin of fire
  • Careless disposal of lit cigarette — adequate ash trays places on service tables, employees aren't allowed to smoke inside premises
  • Naked flame — although bartenders were known to perform fire tricks with cocktails, the bar counter was placed away from the origin of the fire; no other naked flame reported on the night of the incident

The report went on to zero-in on flying embers as the reason behind the fire. It said, "There is every possibility that during the removal of lighted charcoal from the segree and/ or transferring it onto the hookah, or during fanning of the charcoal, the flying burning embers came in contact with combustible curtains/ decorative material nearby and started the fire."

The report also mentions a list of unauthorised trade practices and structures observed in the two restaurants, like covering of terrace by bamboo-framed tarpaulin/ nylon sheets, large stock of combustible materials, hookah stations, charged CO2 cylinders, among others.

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Updated Date: Jan 06, 2018 10:58:18 IST

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