I had never seen a house on fire before, only filmed reports of it on the television. So, one evening when I heard the siren screams of a few fire-engines rushing past my house, I dashed into the street and joined a growing crowd of curious people. We could see the fire only from a safe distance as the police had cordoned off the place for security reasons. even at a distance, I could recognize that the affected houses were in a squatter area where my part-time maid, Mani, lived.
What a terrible scene greeted my eyes ! The fire was raging through the shabbily built houses. Flames leaped up hungrily to devour the wooden sheds. every now and then tongues of fire would shoot up almost skyhigh, sprinkling bright red sparks of fire about. Fiery wooden beams crashed and glowed brightly. Thick black smoke spread all around.
Dozens of firemen from the four fire-engines were busily engaged in putting out the fire.The rushing water from several hoses soaked the houses but it did not seem to have any effect on the flames. Soon, a few firemen with hoses in their hands were seen climbing up tall red ladders of the fire-engines. The continuous flooding from the top finally brought the fire under control. Where it had been red there was only black -- the charred remains of ruined houses.
While all eyes were transfixed on the inferno, the plight of the victims did not escape the eyes of the spectators. Firemen were seen dragging wailing women away from the burning houses to a safe area. Frightened children clutched to their mothers. Some of the men simply stared speechlessly as they witnessed their homes reduced to ashes.
It took only 30 minutes before the whole squatter area, comprising mainly wooden houses, was razed to the ground. No one could salvage anything. According to a reporter,the estimated loss was around 1 million dollars. Although the amount may seem insignificant to some, for the victims it was all they had. Their only consolation was the fact that no lives were sacrificed.
Though I watched with great sympathy for the other victims of the fire, my real fear the concern were for Mani. All this while, I was straining my eyes to catch a glimpse of her. What a relief when I finally saw her standing with downcast eyes in the midst of other fire victims. My heart went out to her.