More than 300 shops have been gutted in a devastating fire that engulfed a British-era bazaar in Assam’s Jorhat district, officials said on Friday.
The blaze that broke out late on Thursday evening at Chowk Bazaar, in the heart of Jorhat town, was brought under control after nearly 10 hours of fire-fighting, and efforts are still being made to douse pockets of flames, they said.
Over 50 fire tenders were rushed to the bazaar to fight the flames, which is suspected to have been caused by an electrical short circuit at a shop, the officials said.
There is no report of any casualty as all shops were closed with owners and staff having left for their homes, a police officer said.
The shops that were damaged mostly sold grocery items, clothes, utensils, books and stationery items, he said.
Shopkeepers, during the second half of the day on Friday, were seen rummaging through the debris to recover goods, much of which has been reduced to ashes.
A 50-year-old sobbing Montu Saikia, who owned a bell-metal utensil shop, said that he has lost everything to the fire, and the little left could be sold as scrap items.
“We reached home around 8.30 pm after closing our shops, and half an hour later we heard that a fire broke out in the bazaar. By the time, we could reach the spot, the fire had spread far and wide,” he rued.
Another shopkeeper, Rajesh Baruah, who is dealing with readymade garments, said that “we had already suffered huge losses due to the pandemic, but this fire has now brought us to streets”.
“We are middle-class hardworking families, but this devastation has made us ‘dukhiya’ (poor). There were two more families dependent on me and I don’t know what to do next,” he added.
Some of the shopkeepers alleged that the extent of damage would not have been this “huge”, had the fire tenders reached on time.
Initially, 25 fire tenders had rushed to the spot, but they had a hard time navigating their way through the narrow lanes adjoining the bazaar, the officials reasoned.
Later, additional firefighters and vehicles were sent to the spot from nearby towns of Titabor, Mariani, Golaghat, Sivasagar, the Air Force station here, the Numaligarh Refinery and the ONGC.
The shopkeepers have urged the government and the district administration to rehabilitate them at the earliest so that they can start their business afresh.
Minister for Revenue and Disaster Management Jogen Mohan and Jorhat Deputy Commissioner Pulak Mahanta, who visited the site on Friday morning, assured them that all possible measures will be taken to help them once the assessment of the losses was made.
This is the second such incident in Jorhat in two months. A major fire in December had gutted several shops in Marwari Patty area.