As many as 750 people were left jobless in a second fierce fire in less than two months in Karachi. This time it was a chemical factory, one of the two top facilities in Pakistan that deals with plastic printing.
On September 11, more than a thousand workers lost their jobs and about 259 died when a fire broke out in the Ali Enterprises garments factory also located in SITE.
This time, the fire gutted Metatex after breaking out Saturday at 11:45pm. It took more than 30 hours to control. The authorities announced that its building was dangerous as several portions have collapsed. The cause of the fire has yet to be ascertained.
Luckily no loss of life was reported. But according to owner Khalid Qasim, it was an unbelievable loss for him as he had just bought plastic machines at RsRs320 million each a year ago. He estimated a total loss of Rs1.5 billion. He was angry at the fire fighters, who he said could have helped save the property if they had worked on time. “In the begining it was water, then there wasn’t enough foam, then there wasn’t enough water,” he said.
He believed that the workers of the factory themselves put out the blaze as they were trained to deal with a fire emergency and they were quipped with proper fire-extinguishing equipment. “The fire came at a bad time. If there had been more workers we wouldn’t have suffered such a loss,” he said referring to the Eid holidays.
The two four-storey buildings collapsed but fire fighters managed to save the stock of thinner in two big underground tanks in the one-storey storehouse. The factory is spread over 3,500 square yards and was about eight years old.
As the news of the fire spread, scores of factory workers reached to help with the rescue operation. “This was our bread and butter,” said worker Asif Shabbir with tears in his eyes. “With this factory, the future of our families also went up in flames.” He was worried about compensation.
The fire fighters came from the KMC, Pakistan Air Force, Pakistan Navy, Civil Aviation Authority and Karachi Port Trust but they struggled because of the huge stocks of chemicals and plastics feeding the fire. “We did whatever we could do,” said a sub-fire officer of the SITE brigade, Basheer Ahmed. “A shortage of the foam and a shortage of manpower at the right time allowed it to get worse.” He said that they did their best with whatever resources they had. “The biggest challenge was saving the thinner tanks,” he added. “If the fire had reached them, then there would have been an explosion that would have blown the surrounding buildings into the sky.” One of the tactics they used was to surround the tanks with 3.5 feet of water.
Law enforcers reached to help the fire fighters and disperse the crowd that was creating problems as well. “By the time I got there, the fire had spread to the main gate and leapt up more when they hit it with water,” said SITE division SP Akram Abro who was informed by the factory’s security guards. The CCTV cameras and their recorders were burnt. But the police have called the owners, workers and security guards today (Tuesday) to record their statements.
The factory used its own generators and gas to produce electricity.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2012.