KARACHI: A torn teddy bear stares from behind a half-burned swing hanging from the roof. It lies next to a pile of burned clothes strewn around. Nearby, there is a golden cupboard carrying charred remains of Umair’s possessions – the man who lost perhaps his most valuable treasure on Tuesday.
Umair’s three children lost their lives in a deadly fire that erupted in a garbage pile in a small alley located next to his house in Lyari. The alley, located between Noor Manzil and Fatima Manzil apartments, had accumulated a large pile of garbage that caught fire at around 3:15am on Tuesday. The smoke and flames engulfed Umair’s house, located on the second floor of Noor Manzil, as a window in his house opened into this alley.
It seemed like someone from Fatima Manzil threw a lit cigarette into this alley and the mound of garbage, which reaches all the way up to the first floor, caught fire, said a Noor Manzil resident, Muhammad Azeem.
According to him, Umair’s family was fast asleep when the fire broke out. “Most of the residents jumped through the staircase to save their lives as the apartments started getting filled with smoke,” he said, adding that it took the fire trucks two hours to reach the apartments.
Using a wooden ladder from a nearby shop, the neighbours rescued Umair and his wife. “The children were unconscious when they were brought out,” he recalled. The entire family was rushed to the hospital.
Civil hospital spokesperson Dr Abdul Qadir Siddiqui told The Express Tribune that the three children were dead when they were brought to the facility. All three children died from suffocation due to smoke and minor burns, and were immediately transferred to the mortuary, he added.
Meanwhile, their mother, Shamim, was treated for minor injuries and was discharged on Tuesday morning. Umair suffered burns on 7% of his body and had minor injuries so he was admitted at Civil hospital’s Burns Centre, said the unit chief Dr Ahmer Ibran. “We also discharged him as he had to go take care of his children’s last rites.”
The police are treating the case as an accidental fire and, therefore, no case has been registered, said Kalri police station SHO Nisar Lodhi.
Noor Manzil hardly portrays the image of safe living conditions. Naked electric wires were hanging off the meters inside the building. The residents had to disconnect the electricity and gas connections on their own as no utility provider reached on time, complained Azeem.
And this is not the first time the garbage pile caught fire. “Last year, similar fires broke out in the garbage inside the ‘gandi gali’ [dirty alley] at least three times,” he said. The alley is so small and inaccessible that no machinery can enter to clean it up, he added.
The residents have requested the building owner to address this issue several times, said another resident Akram, who added that the owner has been unavailable on his phone since the fire broke out. “The residents here are living on pagri [a form of rental agreement] and pay Rs8,000 to Rs10,000 per month,” he said.
With additional reporting by Mudaser Kazi
Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2017.