I happened to be at the scene of this massive fire in Kolkata today (see video link below) on one of the city’s fanciest commercial streets. It was quite a spectacle. Fires always attract a crowd – as do crowds – and being India, this attracted a number equal to the population of Switzerland, each of whom followed the fate of three young guys who had been forced out on to a third floor ledge like it was a derby cricket match.
Since none of the fire trucks had ladders long enough to save them, the usual DIY Indian spirit kicked in and a bunch of guys started climbing up the side of the building to try and fashion some sort of escape route. One guy was very good at shimmying up poles and sneaking up ledges, and received big ovations from the crowd. However, he got a bit carried away at one point and managed to get stuck on his own window ledge on the 2nd floor.
In the end, some ropes made their way to the stranded boys. Two of them braved the extremely hazardous slide down, the first one in a nail-bitingly clumsy manner that must have left him with some vicious rope burns on his hands; the second in a much more secret agent fashion that he will no doubt be banging on about to everyone he meets for the rest of his life. The last guy, bless him, pussied out and waited for the big fire truck with a proper crane to save him.
At some point, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal’s fierce looking opposition leader) showed up to give the news crews a new thing to point their cameras at. Hopes that she would use her superhuman fire-quenching Ice Breath powers to sort out the situation were not realised.
The fire has gutted two landmark eateries – Peter Cat and Flury’s – and apparently caused the death of around five people. People have blamed the traffic for how slowly the fire trucks arrived at the scene, which considering the ridiculous parking lot that constitutes Kolkata’s roads at most times of the day seems like a reasonable complaint.