Five people are reported to have died in a fire that broke out at a new facility on Serum Institute of India’s (SII) Pune campus on Thursday (January 21), fire brigade officials said.
The blaze was reported on the fifth floor of the under-construction building on the Manjari campus.
“As per our knowledge, the building is not directly connected to manufacturing Covishield [the coronavirus vaccine that SII has developed in collaboration with Oxford-AstraZeneca],” the rescue supervisor said.
The part of the facility where the Covishield vaccine is manufactured is safe and has not been affected, authorities said.
The five people who died were perhaps workers at the under-construction building. The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained but it is being speculated that welding, that was going on at the building, caused it, said Pune mayor Murlidhar Mohol.
He said four people were inside the building when the fire broke out, and all the four were rescued. But, when rescue workers went inside after controlling the fire, they found five bodies, Mohol said.
Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla called the news of deaths “distressing”. “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,” he said in a tweet.
Prashant Ranpise, the chief fire officer, said there were “at least” five fire tenders and additional water tankers at the spot.
“The calls (about the fire) were received around 2.30 pm, around the time when the fire was reported. Some of the tenders have reached the area and have started the operation. As of now, we do not have details about the nature of fire, the extent of damage or the cause. Our priority will be to bring the fire under control and avert any damages of casualties,” he said.
“Because there is a lot of smoke emanating from the affected area, it becomes difficult to locate the source of the fire and bring it under control. We have now deployed a total 10 fire tenders, a hydraulic lift and other equipment. Our teams are also checking whether any more people are stuck that we don’t know of as of now.”
Serum Institute manufactures Covishield, the vaccine for COVID jointly developed by the UK-based Oxford University and pharma major AstraZeneca. This is the main vaccine in the vaccination programme of the government, whose first phase started on January 16.