5 dead after major fire hits Serum Institute of India plant in Pune

Covishield vaccine manufacturing unit unharmed by blaze.

Five people have lost their lives to a major fire  which erupted in a building under construction of vaccine manufacturing major Serum Institute of India (SII)’s Gopal Patti plant in Pune on Thursday afternoon.

“Five charred bodies have been recovered from the building where fire broke out in afternoon. The fire is completely under control,” said Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope.

“The fire broke out at around 2 pm at a newly constructed building in M SEZ III in the Manjri area. Work pertaining to rotavirus plant installation was underway. The fire was caused due to a welding spark while inflammable material aggravated the fire. At least five fire tenders and three water tankers were rushed to the spot. It took about two-three hours to douse the fire. After being extinguished, when authorities walked inside five bodies were found,” said Mr. Tope, adding that that authorities would give updates on more casualties as and when information was received.

It is believed that the five deceased were labourers, said Pune Mayor Murlidhar Mohol.

Mr. Tope further said that the Covishield vaccine storage is sited at a distance from the blaze and that it had not been harmed by the fire.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has directed the authorities to ascertain the cause of the blaze.

SII CEO 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.”

It is being investigated whether the cause of the blaze was due to a short circuit or something else. Sources said the building was being constructed to house facilities for a rotavirus vaccine in the near future.

Pune Police Commissioner Amitabh Gupta, who reached the spot, said: “At 2:45, the SII got information of a fire that had erupted on the fourth-fifth floor of a building at the SII complex in Gopal Patti. No production was going on that floor. As per the SII, there is no problem or threat of fire whatsoever to their COVID-19 vaccine unit. Further investigations are under way.”

The first priority was to get the blaze under control and check if everyone was safely evacuated, he stated. The Manjri plant in the Hadapsar area houses the institute’s largest COVID-19 pandemic facility in the country. At least 10-15 fire tenders have been rushed to the spot.

Ajit Pawar’s directive

Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar has directed the Pune district administration to rush to the spot and bring the situation under control. Mr. Pawar, who is en route to Pune, has also directed an immediate investigation into the cause of the fire.

“Efforts are underway to extinguish the fire at the SII’s Manjri plant. All concerned agencies in the city and the district administration are engaged in fire-fighting and relief work. 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,” Mr. Pawar said.

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