ISLAMABAD: At least two people lost their lives and one was gravely injured when a fire broke out in Awami Markaz, a six storey building in Islamabad on early Sunday morning.
Ali Raza and Umer Ejaz were both employees of Outpost Company, a call centre inside the building. Raza and Ejaz both jumped to save themselves. Raza could not survive his injuries, while Ejaz was gravely injured and taken to Pakistan Medical Sciences’ Burns Unit.
Waqar, the second victim, was a resident of Rawalakot, Azad Kashmir and was working as support staff at Atex Software Company. Waqar was inside the building when the fire broke out and passed away due to intense heat and suffocation from the smoke.
According to official accounts, fire fighters contained the blaze within an hour initially and seven fire tenders – out of which one had a sky lift and extendable ladder – were part of the rescue operation. The cause of the fire was said to be a short circuit in the federal tax ombudsman office, located on the ground floor.
Although the fire was extinguished, flames erupted for a second time, spreading rapidly to different floors. Pakistan Software Houses Association (PASHA) Chairperson Barkan Saeed told The Express Tribune that there were oversights that led to the fire becoming as colossal as it did.
He added: “The fire has caused a lot of damage to the IT sector of Pakistan and the government has to assist companies so that they may continue operations.” Notably Saeed added that no IT Park has fire safety procedures that comply with international standards.
Claims of oversight have been denied by Capital Development Authority (CDA) spokesperson Muzhar Hussain, who says that the fire was taken care of but during the cooling process strong winds started blowing that reignited the fire. Eventually firefighters from the Pakistan Navy and Rawalpindi Rescue 1122 also had to arrive on the scene to put out the blaze.
The worst affected offices in the building were the Federal Tax Ombudsman Office and Software Technology Park, whereby their records and equipment were burnt. Despite a heavy contingent of firefighters, the building was gutted and now faced risk of collapse because of the damage it has suffered.
An eight-member committee has been formed- led by the DC – to investigate the cause of the fire.
Awami Markaz CEO Talha Ahmed informed The Express Tribune that the building belonged to the ministry of industries and was run by the Industry Facilitation Centre, a subsidiary of the ministry. He added that 25 IT companies had their offices inside the building and approximately 1,000 people worked in it. Companies such as AQSA, FTO, Swati Cooperate, DPS, ORAtech, MOBI, SMART Company, Think Tech, EDS, TalcoJacks, NPO, Alfajar, Knowledge platform, PIDC and State Agency owned offices in the building.
It was also reported that records belonging to China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) were destroyed in the fire but a tweet from Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Nafees Zakaria laid these claims to rest. He clarified that there was a small research unit at the markaz which was digitally backed up at Planning, Development and Reforms Division, hence no data was lost.