Shimla losing heritage buildings due to lack of firefighting equipment
First it was Gorton Castle then it was Minto Court. In less than a year, these two grand heritage structures went up in flames in the Queen of Hills, as Shimla was fondly called by the British colonial rulers.
The reason: lack of advanced firefighting equipment, negligence and excessive use of paint work in the buildings.
Records with the fire department say the town has lost more 150 British-era buildings, both private and government, in the past 25 years.
In all such buildings whether it is Gorton Castle or Minto Court or any of the old structures there is considerable use of wood work which has been painted several times with more than a dozen coatings. This is nothing but sitting on an oil field, said Shimla Municipal Corporation deputy mayor Tikender Singh Panwar.
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He said in none of these buildings there is an advanced firefighting scientific engineering done and added that with just fire extinguishers this can never be controlled.
The two-storeyed, half-timbered Tudor style — all-wooden frames and shingled eaves — Minto Court building, named after Viceroy Lord Minto, was completely gutted with all records within a few hours Saturday night.
It housed the office of Project Deepak of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), an inter-services organisation under the defence ministry.
“What’s required is an internal creation of fire hydrants within the building, especially the heritage ones, with a duct outside so that the water either through a fire-tender or a water hydrant is ducted outside and the water automatically reaches the spaces inside within no time. Otherwise, we are actually increasing our vulnerability,” said Panwar who rushed to Minto Court that was on fire.
The deputy mayor, who along with two councillors Shashi Shekhar and Sanjay Parmar were present at the spot and monitored the entire exercise of fire-fighters, favoured strengthening capacity building.
“It’s not just that of the officials but also of the common man which is required otherwise the conventional methods would always be dominating which in fact creates more precariousness than preparedness. For example lots of vehicles were parked along the roadside just to see the fire in Minto Court and some of the fire tenders got stuck.”
Expressing apprehensions about delay in reporting it to the fire department, Panwar, who is the CPI-M state secretariat member, said: “As the fire-tenders were rushed, the fire had almost engulfed the top storey completely; there was definitely a delay in reporting.”
“The only solace is that no collateral damage was done to the adjoining buildings and houses…”