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. Inadequacy 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.)



    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:

a.     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.

b.     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.

c.     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 tolls.  

All 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 emergency occurs.  




3.1   The Indian Standard 8758:1993 details the recommendations for fire precautionary measures in construction of temporary structures and pandals.


 3.2   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 occupancy.


3.3 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 is more.




 4.1   Fire safety of a structure begins with its location. While selecting the site, the following factors should be borne in mind.  

a.       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.                                                               

1.    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.  

2.    All emergency structures shall be approachable and the approach gate provided, if any, shall have a clear opening (height clearance) of 5 m.  

3.    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.  

b.      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.  

c.       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.)  

d.      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.  

e.       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 material.                                              

f.        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.  

g.      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.

2.  No part of the electrical circuit, bulbs, and tube lights, etc in    the structure shall be within 15 cm of any decorative or other combustible material.

Hence the selection of the site is an important factor in fire safety of such structures.                                                                               



      5.1 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.


     5.2 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.


      5.3 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.


     5.4 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 vehicle access.


      5.5 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.


      5.6 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.


      5.7 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.


      5.8 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 indicated below.


      5.9 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.               


      6.1 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.


      6.2 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 standing.


      6.3 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.


      6.4 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.                         


Correct Measurement of Minimum Seating between Rows of

                                     Seats ( Aisle Accessway Width ) a. with out Self-Rising seats b. with Self-Rising seats


      6.5 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.  


      6.6 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.


      6.7 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 1.5m.



      7.1 It 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.              


      7.2 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.


      7.3 All electrical wiring in the structure shall be in PVC sheathed conductors or vulcanized rubber cables of tough rubber.


      7.4 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 structure.


      7.5 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.




      8.1 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.


      8.2 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 sheets.


      8.3 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.


      8.4 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.


      8.5 No fire works or open flame of any kind shall be permitted in any temporary structure or in the immediate vicinity.


      8.6 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.




      9.1 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.


      9.2 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.                                                                                      


      9.3 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 available.


      9.4 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.


      9.5 For protection of electrical installation, one carbon dioxide extinguisher of adequate size shall be provided for each switchgear, main meter and stage area.


      9.6 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.




      10.1 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.


      10.2 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.


      10.3 Last 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.



Some of the major fires involving Temporary Structures in Tamil Nadu


1.    TOURING CINEMA FIRE, dated 29.07.1979.


Details 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.


2.    YAGA SALA FIRE, dated 07.06.1997.


Details 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.










      The 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 are:  

Ammonium Sulphate         - 4 parts by mass

Ammonium Carbonate      - 2 parts by mass                                                   

Borax                                   - 1 part by mass

Boric Acid                           - 1 part by mass

Alum                                    - 2 parts by mass

Water                                   - 35 parts by mass

(Paragraph 3.2 of IS 8758; 1993, Recommendations for Fire Precautionary Measures in Construction of Temporary Structures and Pandals.)