1.1 India is a fascinating country and we Indians love to celebrate festivals. For every type of celebration we construct temporary structures such as pandals, shamianas and other makeshift edifices.
1.2 But it is of our common observation that in these structures, safety
is not given the same importance that is accorded to safety in permanent
structures of places utilized as public assembly points. Temporary structures
are mostly set up to celebrate festivals and functions and this unique way of
celebration is part and parcel of our culture.
1.3 At times, even schools, cinema theaters, religious centres such as
yagna sala, meditation halls etc., and marriage halls are run in makeshift
structures. Mostly, these structures are constructed with the materials of high
flame spread nature and easily ignitable.
of fire safety measures combined with the hazardous nature
of the materials used and the absence of adequate preparedness to expect
such emergences leads to tragic and disastrous consequences.
1.4 In the past, several temporary structures have been the scene of
serious fires and scores of lives have been lost in these incidents. A cursory
look at some of these incidents must be an eye-opener to every one who is
concerned about public safety. (Details of
Major fires in Temporary Structures in Tamil Nadu have been listed in Table 1,
for ready reference.)
SPECIAL HAZARDS OF TEMPORARY STRUCTURES
2.1 First, we must examine, why these types of temporary structures
present a major safety problem resulting in heavy loss of human lives? The
reasons are varied. Particular problems of special type, experienced by the fire
officers are listed below:
The assembly occupancy (the gathering of public for outdoor assembly) of
this type, involves the safety of a large number of people, the density of the
occupant population presents the major safety problem. No other occupancy
experiences occupant loads of such density. It is not uncommon for occupant
densities in these structures to approach one person per 5 square feet, that is
0.46 square meters. Such high occupant densities produce problems in their own
way, such as of their physical movement and their behaviour in emotional and
surcharged atmosphere, the maintenance of proper width of aisles, the capacity
of the exits and method of alerting the occupants in cases of emergences etc.
Further, the occupants of these structures are usually inhibited by
persons who do not use the building frequently and, therefore, might not be
familiar with exit locations, egress paths, or other present safe guards.
In addition, most of these places, such as light music troops or
meditation halls etc. are used in conditions of near total darkness. Conversely,
in other assembly places such as political conferences, religious congregations
etc. the load on electrical circuits are high due to bright illumination
requirements which increase the heating effect on cables. And in almost all
cases, as soon as the fire was discovered, all lights were turned off leading to
chaos and confusion and the smoke logging would increase the further death
these factors, high occupant density, unfamiliarity with the structure and total
chaos and confusion are common to many such incidents. Hence
our safety requirements must have to deal with all these factors to avoid panic
and facilitate orderly egress and simultaneous and prompt fire fighting when an
3. CODAL PROVISIONS COVERING THE FIRE SAFETY OF TEMPORARY STRUCTURE
The Indian Standard 8758:1993 details the recommendations for fire
precautionary measures in construction of temporary structures and pandals.
Before going into the details, we must understand, that the various
provisions of this fire safety code for temporary structure are meant only for a
specific period and not for the structure, meant for permanent or continuous
The second point is that the structure shall meet the requirements for
resistance to fire of a minimum of 10 minutes or total evacuation time whichever
BASIC REQUIREMENTS - SITING
Fire safety of a structure begins with its location.
While selecting the site, the following factors should be borne in mind.
Provision of clear space facilitates the fire tenders to move around the
structure easily, to reach the seat of fire and prevents the spread of fire due
to physical contact of flames and radiant heat. So as to achieve this, the
following norms should be observed.
There shall be a clear space of 4.5 m on all sides between the structure
and the adjacent buildings or other structures. Further, the outside of such
temporary structure shall be cleared of all combustible materials or dry
vegetation and any other materials obstructing the movement of fire vehicles. No
temporary structure shall be erected near furnace, railway line, electrical
sub-station, and chimney or under high-tension wire or like hazard unless a
safety distance of 15 m is maintained.
All emergency structures shall be approachable and the approach gate
provided, if any, shall have a clear opening (height clearance) of 5 m.
No part of temporary structure shall be more than 45 m away from the
motor-able road so as to facilitate the easy access of the fire vehicles. The
main structure shall be erected with at least 100 mm diameter post of
non-combustible material or wooden post. All supporting members shall be of
sufficient size and strength to support the structure.
ROOFING AND DECORATION The
height of the ceiling of the structure from the ground shall not be less than 3
m. In no case, the height of corridor/passage way shall be less than 3 m.
No decorative paper/synthetic material shall be used anywhere in the
structure. All fabrics, decorative clothing used in the construction and
decoration of the structure shall before use be dipped in a fire retardant
solution (Constituents of fire retardant solution in Table 2.)
Plant material like dried coconut/Palmyra leaves; thatch and coir
products are also used for roofing, decoration and covering of the sides of the
temporary structures. At times, canvas and other synthetic fabrics are also used
for this purpose. These are all combustible materials and help in the rapid
spread of fire. Wherever combustible material is used it should be treated with
fire retardant solution.
The Central Building Research Institute (CBRI), Roorkee developed fire
retardant treatment process for plant material like thatch, Palmyra leaves,
bamboo, casuarinas poles and coir products. According to CBRI, the fire proofing
treatment not only makes them fire resistant but also extends the life of the
Fire retardant fabrics, that is self extinguishing, do not spread flame
and disallow formation of molten droplets which would cause skin burn. Such
materials are now available for use as basic material for shamiana and pandals.
1. No temporary structure shall be erected beneath and adjacent to any
live electrical line. The gap between the live wires and any part of the
structure shall in no case be less than 2 m.
The omission of this important aspect has led to a serious
fire in a circus tent in Bangalore in February 1981 left more than a hundred
people dead (majority of them were children and women) as the burning canopy
fell on the audience and trapped many. An inquiry into the incident revealed
that snapping of a high-tension line above the tent and the sparks generated
could have started the fire.
No part of the electrical circuit, bulbs, and tube lights, etc in
the structure shall be within 15 cm of any decorative or other
the selection of the site is an important factor in fire safety of such
The codal provisions require that all sides of the temporary structures shall be
left open. If this is not possible, the lower portions of the sidewalls shall
not be fixed.
The underlying point is that all temporary structures shall have clear opening
for entry and exit. They should be wide and strong enough for the people using
them to evacuate in case of emergences.
The minimum width of the opening shall not be less than 1.5 m. The line of
travel from any seat to the nearest exit on the seating area shall not be
greater than 15 m.
Fire exits and other escape routes should never be blocked or kept locked.
Separate entrances into the site should be made and kept clear for emergency
All exit points shall be clearly indicated with sigh ‘EXIT’
over each doorway or opening in plain legible letters – height of the letters
not less than 5 cm and 1.8 cm in width, enabling everybody in the auditorium to
visualize the exit points easily.
Exit light should be adequately illuminated with reliable light source when the
public occupies the structure. Suitable directional signs shall also be
displayed in a conspicuous location to indicate the proper direction of egress.
Exit and directional signs shall also be painted with fluorescent paint. Doors
wherever fitted to exits shall open outwards and shall not be closed or bolted
during the presence of persons in the structure.
Particular attention should be paid to the arrangement and positioning of exits.
Failure on this part leads to disastrous consequences as shown in the example
On 23rd of December 1995, a devastating fire in the temporary
structure constructed for the annual day function of a school in Dabwali town in
Haryana took a toll of over 400 persons, a majority of them being school
children. In this tragic incident the public, which mainly included school
children and their parents, could neither escape nor be evacuated because the
structure had a single passage that served both as an entry and exit point.
Moreover, the seat of the fire was at the lone entry/exit point that further
added to the woes of the rescuers.
CAPACITY AND SEATING ARRANGEMENTS
The capacity of any temporary structure shall be the number of fixed seats plus
an allowance of one person for each 0.50 square meter of floor area designated
or used as standing space or for movable seats. A distance of 450 mm along any
undivided bench shall constitute one seat in computing capacity.
However, ramps, aisles and passageways shall not be considered while computing
the capacity of a place of outdoor assembly and shall not be used for seats or
Each row shall comprise of not more than 12 seats. The seats shall be tied up
together in a bank of not less than 4 seats and secured to the ground.
The seating arrangement shall be such that the clearance between rearmost point
of the immediate front seat and the foremost point of the next rear seat in two
successive rows is not less than 55 cm. Where self folding seats are provided,
the clearance shall not be less than 30 cm.
Measurement of Minimum Seating between Rows of
Seats ( Aisle Accessway Width ) a. with out Self-Rising seats b. with
In the Dabwali incident earlier discussed the seating arrangement for the
occupants were provided with plastic chairs of less numbers and it proved to be
a major hurdle during the evacuation exercise where the crowd presented in heavy
numbers. The seats were not fixed and as people ran helter-skelter the upturned
chairs proved to be an impediment to their speedy and safe movement.
Gangways: Large congregations should
have the cross gangways and longitudinal gangways formed at the sides and
central portion for easy movement of persons using them. It is useful for
orderly egress in case of emergences.
Cross gangways shall be provided after every 10 rows of seats, width of such
passage being not less than 1.5 m. The width of side longitudinal gangway shall
be not less than 1.2 m and central longitudinal gangway shall be not less than
is to be noted that the organizers and inspecting authorities of temporary
structure must always ensure that only a competent licensed electrical engineer
should always do the electrical installations for temporary structures.
An electrical current can generate heat and it is a heat source. The load on
electrical circuits in temporary structure is generally high due to bright
illumination requirements, which generates tremendous amount of heat, inside the
structure. Hence, it must be ensured that the load per circuit, insulation test
and the installation shall conform to IS 1646:1982.
All electrical wiring in the structure shall be in PVC sheathed conductors or
vulcanized rubber cables of tough rubber.
All joints shall be made with porcelain insulated connectors. Twisted and tapped
joints shall not be permitted. No halogen lamps shall be used anywhere inside
The best way to ensure electrical safety of variety of appliances that might be
used in a temporary location is to list every item of electrical equipment and
make sure that it is checked for safety on a regular basis and also before it is
put to use.
8 LOCATIONS OF KITCHEN AND COOKING FACILITIES
As per our tradition and custom, every celebration should start and end with
provision of food items. Hence, kitchen and cooking facilities are part and
parcel of most of the temporary structures.
The inspecting officers and organizers must ensure that the location of
kitchen/canteen facilities in temporary structure should be totally segregated
from the main structure and the enclosures should be preferably made of GI
It is amply made clear from the incident at Baripada in Orissa on 23rd
February 1997 claimed 181 worshippers and injured 1969 when a fire in the
kitchen pandal engulfed a makeshift straw and bamboo hall constructed to house
the devotees, in a religious congregation.
Most of the victims were asleep after lunch when the fire broke out. It is said
that the fire started with an electrical short circuit that was later fuelled by
the explosion of a gas cylinder used for cooking food for the devotees.
No fire works or open flame of any kind shall be permitted in any temporary
structure or in the immediate vicinity.
The only exception given to the above is that small sized controlled fires for
religious purposes shall be permitted inside or near the pandals or other
temporary structures. Corrugated galvanized sheets are ideal for use as
ceiling/roofing material in such areas where open fires are lit. Proper and
adequate ventilation must be provided directly above the fire.
9 FIRE FIGHTING ARRANGEMENTS
Water supply is one of the most critical elements of fire fighting because water
is the most common extinguishing agent. It is inexpensive, readily
available, and abundant and has the ability to absorb large quantities of heat.
Water absorbs such large amounts of heat from the fire that it cools the fuel
below its ignition temperature.
In considering the expression ‘the first five minutes of fighting a fire sets
the stage for the entire battle,’ we must remember that without water it is
not even a fight. Water supply is important in areas with a water distribution
system and even more important in areas without a system because one must be
created. Hence, we must ensure
sufficient and continuous supply of water for a considerable time for the fire
fighting purposes in our safety planning.
As far as temporary structures are concerned supply of water shall not be less
than 0.75 liters per square meter of floor area for each pandal. The water shall
be stored in buckets/drums and kept in readiness for use. Half quantity may be
kept inside the temporary structure and the other half outside in its immediate
vicinity. The buckets or receptacles storing water shall at all time be readily
A minimum of fire buckets at a rate of two buckets per 50 square meters of floor
space and one water type extinguisher, 9 litres capacity, per 100 square meters
of floor space shall be provided in all temporary structures.
For protection of electrical installation, one carbon dioxide extinguisher of
adequate size shall be provided for each switchgear, main meter and stage area.
Local licensing authority may recommend the provision of stand by fire service
at any temporary structure if such measure is deemed necessary. In such cases
adequate water supply for the fire fighting service shall be ensured.
From the several fire accidents at the temporary structures it is observed that
majority of the victims in these infernos were children and women. Thus it
becomes imperative for the organizers, inspecting officers and licensing
authorities that they should ensure that the temporary structures are maintained
in a safe and sanitary condition. All devices or safeguards, which are required
by the provisions, are maintained in good working condition.
Further, all temporary structures shall be periodically inspected and any
deterioration and defect observed shall be brought to the notice of the
authority for remedy.
but not least, particular
attention shall be paid to the means of escape and gangways, exits, etc are not
obstructed in any way and
all buckets and extinguishers are easily visible and accessible before the
public are admitted at any time.
of the major fires involving Temporary Structures in Tamil Nadu
TOURING CINEMA FIRE, dated 29.07.1979.
of the fire: A fire in a touring cinema on the 29th of July in
Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu claimed over a hundred lives. The cinema premises were
constructed of thatched roof and this helped in rapid spread of fire. There were
sufficient exit points for people to evacuate but they were fastened so tightly
that the people could not escape. There was only one exit through which people
could get out which caused a stampede leaving many dead and many more injured.
YAGA SALA FIRE, dated 07.06.1997.
of the fire: In June 1997 a giant structure (400 feet X 300 feet) was
constructed for the Yagnashala (place for the holy fire) in the ancient
Brihadeeswara temple in Thanjavur, on the occasion of the fourth reconsecration
of Lord Brihadeeswara. The structure was constructed using synthetic material
and was covered with a low thatched palm leaf roof. It is said that sparks from
a cracker fell on the temporary structure and caused the fire. The fire burnt
for over an hour consuming the temporary wood and nylon pavilion. 39 devotees
(majority of them old women) died in the fire and 250 persons were injured in
the stampede that followed the fire.
The Yagnashala had only one exit. As soon as the fire was
discovered all lights got switched off leading to more chaos and confusion. The
lack of more openings resulted in smoke logging in the structure.
MENTAL ASYLUM FIRE, ERWADI, RAMANATHAPURAM DISTRICT
MARRIAGE HALL FIRE, SRIRANGAM, TRICHY 23.01.2004
TABLE – 2
COMPOSITION OF FIRE RETARDANT SOLUTION
choice of materials for temporary construction shall preferably be of
non-combustible or fire resistance type. Wherever materials of combustible
nature are used in the construction of temporary structures, it can be rendered
fire resistant with a fire retardant solution. The constituents of the solution
- 4 parts by mass
- 2 parts by mass
- 1 part by mass
- 1 part by mass
- 2 parts by mass
- 35 parts by mass
3.2 of IS 8758; 1993, Recommendations for Fire Precautionary Measures in
Construction of Temporary Structures and Pandals.)