They were all locked inside the house on fire

Mishap: Three girls and a boy, all four-year old, were referred to Thimphu hospital after they suffered more than 40 to 50 percent burns on their bodies in a fire accident at the Chinese Lane, on Jaigaon’s side.

The children of four families were left locked from outside in a room.

The fire accident occurred at around 9am yesterday. The locals (Indian) in the neighbourhood broke into the room that was filled with thick smoke and took the children who were by then unconscious.

Mohamad Mustafez, 38, who rescued the children from the burning room said the room was filled with smoke and he could hardly see the children. He said the children had all cramped in one corner of the room where the fire was severe. They were clinging on to each other and were lifeless when I poured water on them,” he said. “I thought they were dead.”

Although exact details of the incident couldn’t be confirmed, locals said the children must have played with the fire inside the closed room. Some also said it could have started from butter lamps. Police officials are investigating the cause.

Residents were reminded of a similar situation at Toorsa where two children were killed when a hut they were locked in was razed to the ground last month. “If we were late by another two to three minutes, the children could have died,” Mohamad Mustafez said. Mohamad Mustafez also suffered a minor burn on his left foot. Another man also had burned his arm, locals said.

Most of the Bhutanese locals residing in the area did not know of the families. However, Indian locals said these children were always seen playing and speak fluent Hindi.

The incident, meanwhile, came as a reminder of safety issues as more and more Bhutanese flock to the cramped place looking for cheaper places to stay. There are no official records, but locals said there are close to 2,000 Bhutanese residing along this lane.

A landlord, Tilok Sharma, who has rented space to 17 Bhutanese families, said Chinese Lane is thickly populated with Bhutanese that come from low-income group. “They are here because rent is affordable,” the landlord said. Some, according to Tilok Sharma have been renting his apartments for more than 15 years now.

Bhutanese residing in the area also said it was affordable  to live in Chinese Lane and other areas in Jaigaon.

A private employee Norbu Gyeltshen who lives with his wife and a child said it was difficult to find a house in Phuentsholing.

“The ones available are expensive,” he said.

The private employee earns Nu 9,000 a month and pays Indian Rupee (INR) 4,500 as house rent.

Police personnel and firefighters from both Jaigaon and Phuentsholing helped contain the fire.

Rajesh Rai, Phuentsholing