- A massive fire broke out at the Pune campus of the vaccine-maker Serum Institute of India (SII)
- It is unlikely to affect the development of Covishield, a vaccine produced by SII
- According to a fire officer, it took firemen about three hours to get the blaze under control. The cause of the fire is still not identified
After a major fire engulfed the three upper floors of a newly built six-storey building within one of the Serum Institute of India (SII) campuses, which is a key player in the global supply of vaccines against the novel coronavirus disease, five people have been reportedly killed in the accident.
SII CEO Adar Poonawalla told one of the leading new channels of the country “lots of damage” had been caused by the fire.
Poonawalla, who is currently not present in the country, had previously said that the fire had not affected the production of Covishield, the approved Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine that Serum produces.
Adar Poonawalla said in a tweet before the five bodies were discovered, “I would like to reassure both governments and the public that because of many production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies, there would be no loss of Covishield production.”
He told a leading news channel afterwards that because of the deaths, he was in a “state of shock.”
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All the five dead were doing welding and air-conditioning work at the newly completed site. The two of them from Uttar Pradesh, and one from Bihar. And the other two workers were local people. None of them were Serum India workers.
Avinash Saroj, 21, whose brother was one of the five people who lost their life said, “We were doing AC insulation work on the fourth floor when we unexpectedly saw smoke rising. The haze became so thick within a few seconds that we were unable to see anything. We raced in the direction of the window and jumped out. I was seriously injured, but I managed to save my life.”
There are laboratory facilities for SII’s rotavirus and BCG vaccines on the lower floors of the hospital. The upper floors of the building where the fire broke out were unoccupied. The producing units and laboratories for the Covid-19 vaccine are located on another SII campus nearby.
The affected building, incidentally, was part of the facilities visited last month by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he came to see the vaccine-making processes of Serum.
By feeding on inflammable material on the upper floors, the fire brigade and police officers said the fire became big. There was a lot of material for air conditioning, including material for insulation and objects used for production. Objects made of PVC, acrylic, plastic, plywood, and wood were present,” a Fire Brigade official said.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray of Maharashtra is scheduled to visit the Serum campus on Friday.
According to police and fire brigade officials, the fire began sometime between 1.45 pm and 2.15 pm and was brought under control by 4.30 pm. It was necessary to deploy at least ten fire tenders, four additional water tankers, and other equipment. The operation involved more than 70 fire personnel. From several kilometers away, intense smoke could be seen coming from the building.
On the fourth floor of a building called SEZ-3, the fire began and spread to the fifth floor. We deployed more than a dozen fire tender and water tankers, hydraulic lifts etc. in a phased manner, and initially succeeded in rescuing nine people from the building. All of them were workers employed by a contractor who worked in the building, said Prashant Ranprise, the Pune Fire Brigade’s chief fire officer.
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The Pune Fire Brigade’s chief fire officer further said, “It was initially difficult to locate the source of the fire because of the smoke. By around 4.15 pm, the fire was brought under control.” Prashant Ranprise added, “This was followed by an extensive cooling procedure in which the temperature of the premises is reduced by water. The cooling procedure ensures that the fire does not start again.”
Only after Fire Brigade workers were able to reach the building, the bodies were found.
Vivek Pradhan, factory manager at Serum Institute said, “The building where the fire broke out housed a rotavirus laboratory facility,” He also added, “There is no stock of Covishield at this place. The electrical and pipe fitting work was going on in the upper floors of the building.”
Namrata Patil, Deputy Commissioner of Police, said an inquiry will be ordered to determine the cause of the fire.
For a major fire incident like this, an investigation is carried out. In this scenario, it will also happen. On the two floors of the building, there is loss of life and damage to property. A case of accidental death, pending a probe of the causes, will be reported as part of the protocol. After obtaining the reports of this preliminary investigation, we will decide the course of legal action,” she said.