Srinagar- At around 9.30 a.m. on the night of March 4, 2022, Ghulam Mohammad Ganaie of Pulwama was attending to his brother, Khizr Ganaie, in Ward No. 15, Bone and Joint (B&J) Hospital, Bar, when he saw an adjacent building in flames.
The fire was spreading so fast that Ganie, 56, thought there was no way out and patients along with their attendants and medical staff would be roasted alive.
“We couldn’t understand how the flames erupted so quickly,” Ganaie said. Kashmir Observer at JVC Bemina, where her brother is undergoing treatment.
“But somehow I decided to evacuate my brother from the hospital.”
After Ganaie’s timely discharge from the ward, the hospital watch and ward and local volunteers began the evacuation process.
The nighttime fire was filmed by cameras and broadcast live to saloons in Kashmir.
By the following dawn, the fire had damaged much of the building’s infrastructure. However, no casualties were reported as all patients were evacuated and transferred to other hospitals in the city including SKIMS Bemina.
Recalling the horror night, Ganaie said there was chaos and panic throughout the hospital as the fire spread amid explosions of oxygen cylinders.
“As everyone was rushing with their patients, the elevators stopped working,” he recalls.
“People were wailing and crying. We thought we would be charred alive.
Genaie’s brother was admitted to hospital after sustaining a leg injury. He was operated on and placed under medical observation in hospital.
In JVC Ward No. 01, bedridden Khizr Ganaie recalled how he wanted to get up and run like the others to save his life when the flames reached his neighborhood.
“But I couldn’t move,” he said. “I was totally helpless.”
He was lifted by his attendant brother onto his shoulders and carried out of the room which was soon engulfed in flames.
“It was Karbala in the hallways of the hospital,” Khizr recalled.
“Patients and attendants were wailing and crying for their lives.”
In the same department of B&J Hospital, Mohammad Yusuf Dar from Ganderbal was admitted for his fractured leg.
“I could smell the fire before it spread,” Yusuf said. “I told my son something had been set on fire, but we didn’t know what.”
It was only after doctors came running to their ward and informed them that the hospital was on fire and they came out.
“There was panic everywhere,” said Yusuf’s son, Majid Dar. Kashmir Observer.
“People were running at top speed for their lives. Together with my brother, I hugged our father and managed to get him out of the hospital.
For the next two hours, Majid said, they were stuck on the Barzulla bridge before being moved to the SKIMS.
“There was a fleet of ambulances there, but the rush was so overwhelming that we couldn’t even manage one for our father,” Majid said.
It was only after some of his relatives in Srinagar reached Barzulla that Yusuf and his sons were transferred to JVC Hospital.
Amid reminiscences of the “blazing” night, most patients and their attendants hailed the role of locals in saving their lives at the risk of their own lives.
These young volunteers rushed in and helped hospital staff evacuate patients from all wards and units amid raging flames and choking smoke.
“The people of Srinagar saved us,” said Shopian’s Nazir Ahmad Bhat.
“I saw many young men rushing into the hospital braving fire to save the lives of patients.”
At the same time, more than two dozen firefighters were dispatched to the scene to extinguish the flames. The intense flare was brought under control after several hours of firefighting.
Dr. Mian Suhail Sultan, Medical Superintendent of B&J Hospital, told Kashmir Observer this fire damaged the third-floor emergency operating room, medical rooms and the 12-bed spinal center.
Rest up, everything else is safe, Dr. Suhail said. “We managed to evacuate all the patients.”
Due to the explosion of an oxygen cylinder, the medical superintendent said, a wall in the building was damaged, causing panic.
“It was difficult to mobilize and evacuate patients with fractures,” Dr Suhail said.
“And that’s why it took us a long time to clean the hospital premises.”
When asked why fire safety audits and proper action had not been taken, the B&J Hospital medical superintendent replied, “Everything has been done.”
However, the Department of Health and Medical Education said the reasons why the incident happened despite “regular fire safety audits and adequate measures” are being determined.
Even Srinagar Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Aijaz Asad said investigations to determine the cause of the fire were ongoing.
“Once the report is received,” he said, “we will be in a better position to say what started the fire.”
Meanwhile at SKIMS, Ghulam Mohammad Ganaie called the Friday night fire a nightmare experience for poor patients.
“We are lucky to be alive right now,” Ganaie said. “If volunteers had not joined the rescue operation in time, there would certainly have been a great loss of life.”