Employees of Wateen Telecom are being blamed for the spread of a fire in the New Auriga Complex on Friday, as they allegedly wasted precious time trying to put out the blaze on their own instead of raising the alarm, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The New Auriga Complex remained sealed on Saturday as fire fighters made sure any remaining embers were put out, leaving traders to mourn the loss of hundreds of millions of rupees worth of goods.
Rescue 1122 spokesman Farooq Ahmad said that the fire caused losses of around Rs500 million, though a day earlier, officials of Wateen Telecom had estimated the damages at around Rs2 billion.
The fire broke out in the plaza, which has two floors of shops followed by two floors of Wateen offices, at around 7.30pm on Friday evening. Ahmad said that it took about seven hours to control the blaze, and a total of 17 hours to put it out completely. Four people were injured and shifted to Services Hospital.
Ahmad said that if such plazas spent a million rupees on fire safety equipment such as smoke detectors and sprinklers, such major fires could be avoided.
Auriga Traders Association Chairman Ghazi Amanullah blamed the extensive damange on Wateen, saying that they waited too long to inform others of the fire. He said the blaze broke out at around 6pm and Wateen employees had wasted time trying to put it out on their own instead of raising the alarm. He said the traders would try to assess their losses during an inspection on Sunday. He said MNA Umer Sohail Zia Butt and MPA Dr Saeed Elahi of the PML-N had assured them of compensation.
MPA Dr Saeed Elahi said that the plaza’s management had equipment for fire fighting, but no preparation. “They have 80,000 gallon water tanks but they did not know how to use them,” he said.
He said there would be an inquiry into the incident. He praised Rescue 1122 fire fighters, saying they had efficiently put out a very difficult fire.
Asif Nadeem, the coordination manager of New Auriga Complex, said that staff at the plaza including guards were trained in fire safety procedures and the precautionary measures in place had saved the building from structural damage. “One of our staff is certified in fire-fighting,” he said. Nadeem said that architects and engineers had checked the plaza on Saturday and assured them that there was no structural damage to the building. He too said Wateen had wasted time before raising the alarm.
No senior Wateen officials were available for comment. A Wateen engineer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that employees on the third floor had spent some time trying to put out the fire, then evacuated the building when they couldn’t. He said the fire was caused by a short circuit. He said Wateen had recently spent Rs160 million on renovating the third floor.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2012.