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Kamala Mills Tragedy: Mumbai Fire Department's probe uncovers the sad truth

Last month's deadly fire that burnt two upscale restaurants in Mumbai could have started from the flying embers from charcoal used for hookahs at the upscale Mojo's Bistro that came in contact with the curtains, and spread rapidly, the fire department has said in its report on the Kamala Mills tragedy.

The fire department said neither of the two restaurants had clearances to serve liquor or run the hookah bar.

Fourteen people, 11 of them young women in their twenties and thirties out, had lost their lives. Most of them were at the '1 Above' when the fire broke out. Their bodies were found piled up in the toilet area where they had hoped to escape from the fire.

It was a fatal mistake.

They died of suffocation because the one man who should have known what to do, a bouncer at the restaurant, had no clue either. He advised everyone to stay put in the toilet rather than try to escape.

"He should have guided the stranded people to the emergency escape route which could have saved the life of these people. This seems that even the security personnel were not aware of the emergency escape as one of the victim is security personnel (Bouncer) died in the Toilet (sic)," the fire department's preliminary probe report said.

The fire department report is in sharp contrast to initial reports that indicated the fire started at '1 Above'. Mumbai police had been quick to arrest the managers and have been hunting for the owners of '1 Above'. On Friday, a reward of Rs. 1 lakh was also announced for their arrest.

In a statement issued earlier, Mojo's Bistro had cited the fact that their customers had escaped unhurt to their adherence to the rules and the fire safety training of their staff. Mojo Bistro's customers also had more time to escape.

Contrary to initial reports that the fire had started at 12:30 am on December 29, the fire department's report quotes several witnesses who put the time closer to 12:10 am.

The department's Byculla control room received the first information about the fire 17 minutes later, at 12:27 am.

That '1 Above' restaurant had extensively covered the space with temporary shed structures using highly combustible material including bamboos, plastic sheets and cotton cloth didn't give their customers too much time once the fire.

As people made a run for their lives, the report drafted after speaking to various survivors, had witness accounts to indicate how blocked emergency exits and combustible material hampered evacuation.

The falling burning debris of thatched roof compelled people to take shelter in the nearby toilet of 1Above restaurant in a bid to escape from heat and smoke," the report said.