At least three people lost their lives and 35 were injured after a fire that started in a building in the Shah Alam Market on Monday morning spread to adjoining structures.
Three plazas and a mosque were razed to the ground while four multi-storey buildings, including residential apartments, were damaged in the fire that started around 8:15 am on Monday.
The fire that is believed to have started at a retail shop near Ano Bhai hotel soon engulfed the 13-storey Bahria Tower. The blaze quickly made its way through the entire plaza, which housed whole sale shops of perfumes, wrist watches and electronic appliances. According to some traders, the plaza also housed a few shops that sold fire-crackers. The structure collapsed, bringing down a neighbouring mosque with it. In the meanwhile flames spread to the adjoining Qadri Centre, Malik Arcade, Barkat Plaza, Allah Bakhsh Arcade and two other buildings.
Rescue 1122 were called in. After they had failed to contain the fire even after several hours, a helicopter was called in from Islamabad at around 3:30 pm, which sprayed foam on the burning buildings in seven rounds. Additional fire trucks were also requested. But the blaze could not be controlled. Fire fighters evacuated nearby buildings and in the evening declared the area ‘hazardous.
Several people trapped in the buildings jumped from considerable height in order to save their lives. Edhi officials confirmed that three people had been burnt beyond recognition.
At least 35 injured were shifted to Mayo Hospital with burns and fractures. Residents of the areas, however, while talking to The Express Tribune said that they feared that the death toll was maybe much greater. “Dozens of Pathan workers lived in Bahria Tower,” one said.
Residents of the Mochi Gate area and traders accused the fire fighters of being unprepared and criticised them for being unable to control the flames from spreading. Sheikh Shehzad Aslam, a building owner, expressed dissatisfaction, “They fire fighters seem unwilling to even go near the burning buildings to extinguish the fire. It is frustrating to see goods worth billions being reduced to ashes.”
Another trader Jahangir Ilahi said, “The fire fighting efforts are nothing more than a joke. They are incapable of handling such a situation.” However, he also blamed the plaza owners for building structures without keeping fire safety regulations in mind and government officials for approving such ‘dangerous’ plazas.
District Emergency Officer and in charge of the fire fighting operation, Ahmad Raza, told the Tribune that narrow streets of the Shah Alam Market were creating problems for the rescuers. “There was no lapse on the part of the fire fighters. A total of 30 vehicles are at the scene, 18 fire trucks and 12 water bowsers, are trying to extinguish the fire from five directions,” Raza said.
Rejecting the allegation that the trucks had run out of water he said, “After two hours of continuous pumping, the vehicle gets heated. It is replaced with another in no more than two minutes.” Dispelling the notion that the fire fighters were ‘reluctant’ to go near the burning buildings, he said that the fire fighters had been told to maintain a safe distance from three buildings that were on the verge of collapsing.
“The height of the buildings is also making things difficult. The fire fighters had to attach a 200-metre extension to the main hose pipe in order to reach the flames. As a result the pump pressure was reduced.
“The pump can throw water with optimal pressure for up to 100 feet.” Raza predicted a long night ahead for the fire fighters and residents of the area, “Though the fire has been controlled from spreading, it will take at least another 10 hours to extinguish it.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2011.