Spread of fire at Serum building aided by insulating material in ceiling and ducts: Report


A preliminary report about the fire at Serum Institute of India (SII) campus on January 21, in which five workers dies, has concluded that the spread of blaze was aided by the insulating material used in the ceiling and ducts, state Fire Services officials have told The Indian Express.

Meanwhile, a report from the regional Forensics Sciences Laboratory (FSL) on the exact cause of the fire is expected soon, based on which the further line of investigation will be decided, according to the police. Officials, however, said the probe till now has not pointed to any possibility of a sabotage.

A major fire that had engulfed the upper three floors of a newly-constructed six-storey building inside Manjri campus of vaccine-maker SII, which is a central player in global supply of vaccines for Covid-19. Five workers — who were part of the welding and air-conditioning crew at the building, which had recently been completed — were killed in the fire.

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The incident had taken place in the jurisdiction of Hadapsar police station in Pune city and considering the seriousness of the case, the Pune City Police Crime Branch had also started a parallel probe along with the local police station. A case of accidental death and burning incident was lodged at Hadapsar police station as the starting point of the investigation. As part of the probe, the police had sought reports from the FSL along with the Fire department, electrical experts and experts from the College of Engineering, Pune (COEP).

Santosh Warick, who led the probe from the Fire department as chief fire officer with Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), now holds additional charge as Director of Maharashtra Fire Services. “We have submitted our report to the police. It primarily states that the heat insulating material used in the ceiling and the air conditioning ducts aided the spread of the fire. The floor where the fire started was a service floor and had air-conditioning ducts running through it. The insulating material used around these ducts and the ceiling was inflammable and that is suspected to have aided the spread of the fire,” he said.

When asked about the findings on the exact cause of fire, Warick said, “There was much damage to the premises, including to the electrical wiring, making it difficult for us to determine where and how the fire started. We will have to rely on the findings of the forensics experts to determine the exact cause of the fire.”

When asked about the status of the probe into the incident, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone V) Namrata Patil said, “The report from the FSL is expected soon and based on that we will decide further line of investigation. Till now, we have not found anything that points to sabotage or a deliberate act to be behind the fire.”

Within a week after the incident, police had concluded recording the statement of persons relevant to the investigation, In the first week of February, Pune City Police had also written to FSL scientists, asking them to give the report on priority basis.

A police officer, who is part of the investigation, said, “There were around 20 samples of various objects collected from the spot which include pieces of damaged objects and traces collected from the surfaces. The chemical analysis of the viscera is required to either detect or rule out the possibility of poisonous fumes. We have been in touch with the FSL officials and we hope to get the report over next one week.”

As per the sequence of events shared by Fire department officials, the first call about the fire was received at the control room around 2.33 pm on January 21. Officials said the fire could have started 15 to 20 minutes prior to that. At least 10 fire officers and over 70 personnel were involved in the fire-fighting operation. Most of the area on the fourth, fifth and six floors of the building, which have huge carpet areas, were badly damaged in the incident.

After the fire, the Serum Institute of India had said it suffered losses worth at least Rs 1,000 crore due to the blaze, although the production or supply of the Covid-19 vaccine remained unaffected. “The fire incident will not affect Covishield supplies, but it has damaged the rotavirus and BCG vaccine manufacturing and storage facilities. It is a big financial loss for us, more than Rs 1,000 crore,” Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla had said at a press conference, held a day after the fire.

A day after the incident, the company had announced a compensation of Rs 25 lakh to the family members of each of the five deceased, identified as Rama Shankar Harijan, Bipin Saroj, Sushil Kumar Pande, Mahendra Ingale, and Prateek Pashte.

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