Fire in Commercial Center in India Kills at Least 17

May 24, 2019 Updated: May 24, 2019

NEW DELHI—At least 17 people were killed when a fire broke out in a four-story commercial building in the city of Surat in India’s western state of Gujarat on Friday, police said.

Television footage broadcast by private channel NDTV showed people jumping off the top floor of the Takshashila building or trying to escape by climbing down, as thick smoke billowed out.

The Press Trust of India news agency said the fire engulfed the third and fourth floors of the building in a shopping district.

Most of the dead were students who had been attending class at a tuition center housed in the building, according to the spokesman for the office of Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.

“The fire started near the staircase, so they could not get down,” Joint Commissioner of Police Harikrishna Patel said, adding that all of the dead were aged below 20 years.

Fire in India 1
A crowd gathers to watch a building on fire in Surat, in the western Indian state of Gujarat on May 24, 2019. (Sarju Parekh/Photo via AP)

Fire officer Deepak Satkale said 24 fire engines battled the blaze. The blaze, likely caused due to an electrical short circuit, started between 3.45-4.00 pm local time and spread rapidly, Patel said.

Television footage showed people trying to grab a large banner on the side of the building as they plummeted down.

*Warning: Some readers may find this video disturbing*

Rupani has ordered an inquiry into the incident and asked Mukesh Puri, principal secretary of the urban development department, to submit a report within three days, the spokesman for his office said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter he was thinking of the bereaved families.

“Extremely anguished by the fire tragedy in Surat,” Modi said. “May the injured recover quickly,” he said, adding he had instructed authorities to help those affected.

Building fires are common in India because of poorly enforced safety regulations.