NEW DELHI — A smoke-filled inferno killed at least 18 people in a commercial building in western India on Friday, and officials warned that the death toll from the blaze in the state of Gujarat could go higher.
As horrified residents looked on, students from a tutoring center on the top floor of the four-story building in the city of Surat and, and patrons from a gym on the third floor, emerged out of the billowing smoke, then jumped from windows in an effort to escape to safety.
It took firefighters “nearly 45 minutes to control the fire,” said J.J. Patel, an officer in the city’s fire department.
The number of casualties could still rise as firefighters cleared the area and many of the burned were taken to the hospital.
Video footage on social media showed young men and women holding on to the edge of the building before plunging to the ground, crashing into store signs on their way down.
“It seems the fire started in the gym and quickly engulfed the top floor as well,” Mr. Patel said. “The bodies look like those of adult men and women.”
D.H. Makhijani, another fire department officer, said that about 12 people were injured. “Some died or were injured because they jumped from top floor,” Mr. Makhijani said.
Fires occur regularly in India, mainly because of rundown buildings, faulty electrical wiring and lax fire regulations. More than 18,000 fires were reported across the country in 2015, resulting in nearly 18,000 deaths, according to the most recent publicly available data.
A fire in a hotel in the capital, New Delhi, that was caused by a short circuit in February killed 17 people. Many guests found emergency exits locked.
Gujarat is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who led the state as its chief minister for more than a decade.
Mr. Modi, who was celebrating his landslide victory in the country’s just-completed elections, said on Twitter that he was “extremely anguished” by the news of the latest blaze and had ordered the local authorities to provide assistance to the affected.
In many parts of Gujarat, officials immediately stopped tutoring centers, dance classes and “all such premises that house children” from operating until the authorities could check for compliance with fire and safety regulations. The local government has also ordered an investigation, and pledged about $6,000 for the families of each person killed.
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