Kupwara: At least 45 shops, of which 18 were not in use, a bank, and three residential houses were destroyed in a massive fire in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district late Monday night.
The devastating fire started about 10:35pm and in a few hours gutted almost the entire Awoora market. The firefighting efforts of locals and later the fire brigade sent by the fire and emergency services managed to douse the flames by 2:30am, locals said.
The fire was so massive that it spread within a few minutes and burnt property worth crores of rupees. “We didn’t have time to bring things out of our house. All was burnt in the fire. There was no electricity in the area at that time, so a short circuit cannot be the cause. The fire burned down even the trees, which have been reduced to ashes,” Shahid Parvez said, showing the burned trees in the area.
The other two houses that were gutted in the fire belong to two brothers, Mohd Hussain Peer and Wazir Ahmad Peer. According to Wazir, the younger brother, he was sleeping when his elder brother shouted out from his home that a fire had broken out. “I immediately woke up and had just a few minutes to evacuate my family before the fire engulfed our house. Some of my family members have sustained burn injuries but thanks to Allah, all are safe,” Wazir Ahmad said.
Six families were living in the three houses that were gutted in the fire. They are now staying in a local madrasa and locals are taking care of them. The Tehsildar and the Additional Deputy Commissioner of the area came and assured help, but no help has been received so far, Wazir Hussain told Kashmir Reader.
According to locals present at the spot, it was mainly the firefighting efforts of locals that saved the lives of people. The fire brigade reached half an hour after the fire had already done major damage.
“We threw stones towards the houses of our neighbours and made announcements on local mosque loudspeakers to wake them up,” Wazir Hussain said.
Ghulam Mohammad, a retired employee of the Power Development Department (PDD) and a resident of Awoora, told Kashmir Reader that the fire services depot is located eight kilometres away from main Kupwara town and the condition of the road is such that it usually takes more than half an hour for any vehicle to reach Awoora.
“If we had a fire service facility in our area, the fire brigade could have reached on time,” he said.
Local youth said that the fire brigade drivers told them that the army had stopped their vehicles at Batargam village without any reason, which caused further delay in reaching Awoora.
However, Nazir ahmad, inspector fire services Kupwara said, “The delay was caused because an army vehicle was coming from the other side when our vehicle was rushing to the fire spot. It took about 10 minutes for the two vehicles to pass on the difficult road. The army did not deliberately stop our vehicle.”
As per locals, six fire service vehicles reached Awoora from depots in main Kupwara town, Trehgam, Kralpora, Handwara and Chowkibal areas. One of the fire service vehicles was without any water in its tank.
Syed Sajad, the branch manager of the Jammu & Kashmir Bank in Awoora, the upper storey of which was gutted in the fire, told Kashmir Reader that he received a call from the bank’s security guard at about 11pm that fire had broken out near the bank. “It took me ten minutes to reach the spot but by that time the fire had already engulfed our bank,” he said.
“Due to the chaotic situation in the area, I was able to write only a few shopkeepers’ names whose shops were gutted in the fire. All the shops in the area were made of wood and were old, which is why the fire damaged such a huge number of them in a short span of time,” Sajad added.
The names of the shops/shopkeepers that the bank manager noted are: Faizan Enterprises, Firdous Fertilisers, hair-cutting saloon of Ghulam Mohiuddin Hajam, chicken shop of Abdul Qayoom Ganaie, tailor shop of Hilal Ahmad Mir, cement shop of Shabir Ahmad Khan, restaurant of Manzoor Ahmad Shah, and bakery shop of Jaffar Ahmad.
A senior police official at the Awoora police post told Kashmir Reader that an investigation has started into the cause of the fire and an FIR has been registered at police station Trehgam.