MUMBAI: Five persons including a woman were charred to death and nine were evacuated from a building in the Serum Institute of India's Manjari premises after a massive fire broke out at the facility on Thursday afternoon.
The Manjari facility is where the Covishield vaccine used in the nationwide inoculation drive against the pandemic is made. The building where the fire broke out is part of the under-construction site of the Serum facility and is one km from the Covishield manufacturing unit, sources said.
One of the labourers, who was working in the under-construction building, said the fire broke out because of the spark of the welding work on the sixth floor, said an eye witness. The fire brigade, however, is yet to ascertain the cause of the blaze.
Pune Brigade chief Prashant Ranpise said the firemen had fought the blaze for four hours to bring it under control and the cooling work is being carried out now. Ranpise also said 15 water tankers were pressed into action and the fire was brought under control around 4.30 pm. Viral visuals from the site showed smoke billowing out from the Serum Institute facility.
"The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained. Furniture, wiring, cabins were gutted. No major machinery or instruments were stored on the floors where the fire broke out," Ranpise said. “Fifteen water tankers were pressed into action and the fire was brought under control around 4.30 pm. We will carry out an investigation and find out the cause of the fire. The detailed report will be submitted to the senior authority,” Ranpise added.
Meanwhile, the CEO of Serum Institute of India Adar Poonwalla said that Covidshield vaccine production won't be hit due to the fire as multiple production buildings have been kept in reserve to deal with such contingency situations.
"I would like to reassure all governments & the public that there would be no loss of #COVISHIELD production due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies at @SerumInstIndia," Poonawalla tweeted.
"Anguished by the loss of lives due to an unfortunate fire at the @SerumInstIndia. In this sad hour, my thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives. I pray that those injured recover at the earliest," Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.
Modi was briefly on the first floor of the building during his visit to the Serum Institute of India (SII) in November last year to review the status of the vaccine candidate, SII sources said.
CM Uddhav Thackeray told reporters that the fire had not broken out in the section developing the COVID vaccine.
“The fire was in the department that develops the BCG vaccine. The situation is under control now. According to the preliminary information, an electric fault caused the fire. The fire brigade personnel worked on a war footing to douse the blaze. People should not jump to any conclusion while ascertaining the cause of the fire. The probe will reveal all details,” said Thackeray.
Deputy CM Ajit Pawar, who is also the guardian minister for Pune, said that the fire at SII is a serious matter and a high-level probe will be carried out.