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Record heat, surging blazes push Delhi’s firefighters to the brink

In Pictures

Indervir Singh has worked for the Delhi Fire Services for 32 years but he cannot recall responding to as many fires as this summer.

Temperatures in India’s capital, New Delhi, home to about 20 million people, have hit record highs, with the mercury climbing to nearly 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) on several occasions.

Calls reporting fires between April and June more than doubled from a year ago, crossing 9,000, fire services data show. Deaths from fires more than tripled in that period, from just 10 a year ago.

Many of the blazes are in New Delhi’s teeming old quarter, where the narrow lanes are crammed with shops and homes, and webs of electricity cables and other wires hanging from poles.

“I have attended to several back-to-back calls” on recent shifts, said Singh, 54, before he rushed to the scene of yet another blaze in his thick jacket, heavy boots and red helmet.

Singh was among more than a dozen firefighters and officers interviewed by the Reuters news agency, many of whom described working in “doubly” strenuous conditions of extreme heat and numerous fires.

Shifts for firefighters are 24 hours long, followed by a day of rest. Senior officers work three full-day shifts at a time and then take a day off.

“Some weeks, we have to take leave just to get some sleep,” said officer Ajay Sharma.

Fire officers say electrical failures are responsible for nearly three-quarters of the blazes this summer. With New Delhi sweating through what the weather office says is one of its longest heatwaves on record, demand for air cooling has surged.

The India Meteorological Department classified nine heatwave days in New Delhi in June, up sharply from the historic norm of one during the month. Scientists say