5 die in Pune Serum Institute fire

Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said the fire had not harmed SII’s Covishield vaccine storage, which is located at a distance from the blaze, in any way.

Five labourers were charred to death in a fire that broke out in the fifth floor of a building under construction of vaccine manufacturing major Serum Institute of India (SII) in Pune’s Manjari area on Thursday afternoon.

The five deceased were contractual labourers- two hailing from Uttar Pradesh, two from Pune district and one from Bihar. According to sources, four others were evacuated from the building when the first blaze, which was apparently caused by an electrical fault, erupted around 2 p.m.

A second, relatively a minor blaze, occurred at 7 p.m. on the third floor of the same building. Both fires has been brought under control, said fire department authorities.

Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said the fire had not harmed SII’s ‘Covishield’ vaccine storage, which is sited at a distance from the blaze, in any way.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who has spoken with SII CEO Adar Poonawalla, is to visit the SII unit in Manjri on Friday, the Chief Minister’s Office said.

Mr. Tope said the fire broke out when labourers were engaged in insulation work at the building in M SEZ III (in Gopalpatti in the Manjari area), which also houses the SII’s biggest COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing facility.

“Work pertaining to rotavirus plant installation was under way in the building. The fire was caused when a spark during welding fell on inflammable material, which further aggravated the fire. At least five fire tenders and three water tankers were rushed to the spot. It took around two-three hours to douse the fire. After the fire was finally extinguished, five bodies were found inside the building by the authorities,” said Mr. Tope. Information on further casualties, if any, would be duly conveyed, he added.

₹25 lakh to each of families of deceased

Cyrus S. Poonawalla, Chairman and Managing Director, SII, said the institute would offer a compensation of ₹25 lakh to each of the families of the deceased, in addition to the mandated amount as per the norms.

“Today is an extremely sorrowful day for all of us at Serum Institute of India. Regrettably, there were losses of lives in the fire that broke out in our under- installation facility situated at the Special Economic Zone at Manjri. We are deeply saddened and offer our condolences to the families of the departed. In this regard, We would like to extend our gratitude to everyone for their concerns and prayers in these distressing times,” said Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla, in a statement.

Mr. Adar Poonawalla tweeted: “We have just received some distressing updates; upon further investigation we have learnt that there has unfortunately been some loss of life at the incident. We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed.”

In yet another tweet, Mr. Poonawalla, while thanking the police and fire-fighting personnel, said the SII reassured all governments and the public that there would be no loss in the ‘Covishield’ production owing to multiple production buildings that had been kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies at the Manjari complex.

Billowing plumes of smoke were seen from the afflicted unit late afternoon, raising concerns over potential damage to the ‘Covishield’ manufacturing unit.

Ajit Pawar’s directive

Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, who visited the accident spot later in the evening, directed an immediate investigation into the cause of the fire. He tasked the authorities with conducting a fire audit.

“I have taken information regarding the blaze from the Pune Police Commissioner and have directed a thorough inquiry into the accident. Concerns are being expressed in the country and abroad regarding the safety of this project. However, I would like to clarify that as per information received, the Corona Preventive Vaccine Project is safe. At present, putting out the fire and controlling the damage caused by the blaze is top priority,” he said.

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