‘They cried out for me but I could only watch them burn alive’

Published: August 13, 2017
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The six victims who died in the fire could not exit the vehicle because the doors were jammed. PHOTO: RASHID AJMERI/EXPRESS

The six victims who died in the fire could not exit the vehicle because the doors were jammed. PHOTO: RASHID AJMERI/EXPRESS

The family were on their way to pick up some other relatives in Garden before going to Hawke's Bay for a picnic. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS The six victims who died in the fire could not exit the vehicle because the doors were jammed. PHOTO: RASHID AJMERI/EXPRESS

KARACHI: I was sitting with my two children in the front seat, next to the driver, while the rest of my family members were sitting in the back, narrated Muhammad Ali. “I heard a spark-like noise from the back and asked driver to stop the van.”

The driver immediately stopped the vehicle and Ali, his two children and the driver exited the van to check the engine. “But before we could do anything a fire broke out and flames engulfed the car,” he said. “My family was shouting and crying out for help but I could do nothing other than watch them be burned to death right before my eyes.”

A family picnic turned into a tragedy on Sunday, as six members of a family were burnt alive, while five others were injured when their van caught fire in District South’s Garden area.

There were 11 passengers in the van when it caught fire at around 6am near Karachi’s Zoological Garden. The ill-fated family from Lasbela were travelling to Hawke’s Bay to have a picnic. Ali lost his wife, daughter, brother, sister-in-law and two nephews in the tragic incident. The family was on their way to pick up the remaining members of their group from Garden before moving on towards Hawke’s Bay.

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He said none of his relatives could get out of the van as the doors and windows were jammed. Two children, however, Ali’s son and nephew, were rescued by the crowd that gathered when the flames broke out – they smashed the windows and pulled out the injured children.

“I just want to ask the authorities what our fault was. Were we wrong to take our children for a picnic?” he questioned angrily. The survivor blamed the van driver and government for the incident. “The flames were very dangerous. I didn’t see the driver after the fire erupted,” said Ali.

Witnesses at the scene claimed that all the victims died before the arrival of the fire brigade. Passers-by came running when they heard the shouts and screams of the family but could do nothing but helplessly watch as they burned to death.

“It was an incident I will never forget,” said Azhar Khan, a resident of the area. “We had no idea what to do. We were just trying to use water and sand to douse the fire.”

The victims’ bodies were taken to Civil Hospital, Karachi for medico legal formalities where doctors said that the bodies were completely charred.

The family were on their way to pick up some other relatives in Garden before going to Hawke's Bay for a picnic. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

The family were on their way to pick up some other relatives in Garden before going to Hawke’s Bay for a picnic. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

The victims were identified as 45-year-old Muhammad Saleem, son of Muhammad Umar, his wife Nelofar, 40, his two-year-old son, Abdul Hadi and 14-year-old son Sheharyar. The other victims were Ali’s 14-year-old daughter Mehwish and wife Binish, 35. Saleem’s other son, eight-year-old Sheroz, and Ali’s 17-year-old daughter Marium were injured in the incident.

Police officials said that the van’s two CNG cylinders remained intact. They believe a short-circuit could have been the cause of the fire be behind the fire. However, they have yet to determine the exact nature of the fire, as investigations are still under way.

The driver fled at the time of the incident and has yet to found. However, the police detained the driver’s brother and father in a bid to pressure him to turn himself in. An FIR has yet to be registered.

“We cannot say anything about how the fire broke out yet,” said Garden SHO Ghulam Nabi Afridi. “But it is confirmed that it is criminal negligence that claimed six innocent lives and an FIR must be registered.”

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Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, Home Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal and IG Allah Dino Khawaja have all taken notice of the incident and sought reports from Karachi Additional IG Ghulam Qadir Thebo. They have also requested Transport Minister Nasir Hussain Shah to form a committee to investigate the incident. The committee will determine whether the van was fit to ply on the road and what cause the fire.

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