Kullu village, heritage temples reduced to ashes

Kullu: A devastating inferno  has gutted Kotla village of Kullu, rendering over 100 families homeless just before the winter is to set in this Himalayan valley. A total of 72 houses have been reduced to ashes and there are other that have suffered partial damage.

A fire outbreak at a house in the middle of the cluttered village broke out at about 4.45 p.m. on Sunday evening (15.11.2015) and soon spread to other nearby houses. The blaze continued through the night reducing one house after another to ashes and before daybreak the entire village was reduced to a pile of simmering coal with fumes of pungent smoke rising from the rubble.

With night temperature dropping to 5 degrees Celsius, sheltering and living through the winters is a challenge for the homeless families. As the flames spread from house to house, most families had escaped the inferno with just the clothes that they were wearing.

Kotla village Kullu razed by fire
Kotla village Kullu razed by fire

A spark from a faulty electric connection is believed to have started the fire that spread to haystacks stored in the house premises for winter use of domestic animals. Bursting of LPG cylinders in the household spread the fire to other houses.

Large fire tenders deployed from Largi hydroelectric project could not reach the fire site because the road was a narrow one and could not allow larger vehicles to pass through. However, they were put into operation from a distance, which wasted precious reaction time in dousing the flames.

A school building and 15 houses have been saved from the flames that were used for temporary sheltering the affected people who number more than 550.

District police, home guards and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) personnel are carrying out relief work in the devastated village. Temporary tents have been pitched for the families and “langar” (free food) has been arranged for them. Politicians too have been making a beeline for Kotla.

Kotla village Kullu gutted
Kotla village Kullu gutted

Deputy commissioner Kullu, Rakesh Kanwar speaking to Hill Post said, “about 90 % of the structures in Kotla village, which include 5 heritage temples have been destroyed by fire that last more than 24 hours. Each affected family has been given a month’s ration and a community kitchen had been started that would be operational for at least the next five days.

“Medical teams have arrived in the village. I reached here from Shimla at 1 a.m. Each affected family has also been given Rs 30,000/- as immediate relief. Tin structures are being raised for the homeless families,” said Kanwar

Meanwhile local member of parliament Ram Swaroop Sharma announced release of Rs 10 lakh for the villagers. “Local authorities have been asked to provide all possible help. I shall request both state and centre governments to help people in building of their new houses,” said Sharma.

Kotla village in flames
Kotla village in flames

Ayurveda and co-operative minister Karan Singh who as member of the legislative assembly (MLA) represents Banjar constituency where the village put the fire damage at Rs 25 crore.

He said that 1800 corrugated steel sheets have been procured for raising temporary structures to shelter the homeless families.

“Banjar villages are prone to fire, says Karan Singh. Government shall build large water tanks in each village of Banjar sub-division, he added.

About three hundreds years old shrines and stores of five local deities namely Devat Bada Chamahu nag,  Devat Shri Dhamani Chamu, Devat Shri Bauni, Devata Shri Patruno and Devat Dona were gutted in the blaze.

The Himachal Pradesh government has announced an immediate release of Rs 1.5 crore relief to the affected families.

Kullu district administrator Rakesh Kanwar said that 300 jackets, 150 sweaters, 300 pair shoes, emergency lights, plastic water tanks, pipes, 10 quintal rice, five quintal flour, pulses, oil and vegetables have been procured and distributed among the families of Kotla village. Rotary Club Kullu has also donated Rs 1 lakh towards the fire victims.

(With inputs from Mohan Verma)

Sanjay Dutta, an engineer by qualification but is a journalist by choice. He has worked for the premier new agency Press Trust of India and leading English daily Indian Express. With more than a decade of experience, he has been highlighting issues related to environment, tourism and other aspects affecting mountain ecology. Sanjay Dutta lives in a village close to Manali in Kullu valley of Himachal.

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