Four people were killed and 15 injured when a television studio in Garhi Shahu caught fire during the transmission of a live sehri show on Monday.
Two people including Asim Obaid, the host of Ramazan Kareem, and production head Rasheed Dogar are in critical condition with burn injuries, doctors said.
Pir Sulaiman Qandahari and Naat Khawans Muhammad Kamran and Syed Saifur Rehman Awaisi – who were guests on the show – were killed in the fire, while the identity of the fourth victim is yet unknown.
Police arrested the owner of Koh-i-Noor TV after the father of Saifur Rehman Awaisi filed a complaint.
Some 40 people including guests and crew were in the studio for the sehri show, Obaid told The Express Tribune from his bed in the burn unit at Mayo Hospital. He said that after the show went into its last advertisement break, he asked a cameraman to check the studio as he could smell smoke. He said that at precisely 3:41am, a wall socket sparked and a cameraman rushed towards it with a water cooler. He also saw sparks from a light near the set.
“We were quite calm and thought it was a small thing that the cameraman could take care of,” Obaid said. But the sparks from the wall socket set fire to the insulation foam in the studio, and the flames quickly travelled up the wall, he said. “In just a few seconds the ceiling burst into flames.”
Obaid said that the studio quickly filled up with smoke, the lights went out and people began calling for help.
Bits of burning foam rained down from the ceiling while people ran into each other and into furniture as they sought to escape the inferno, said assistant cameraman Muhammad Qaisar. He said everyone had been surprised at how quickly the fire had spread. He said he had managed to leave via an exit and fainted in a stairwell, from where he was dragged out by others. He received burn injuries to his hands.
The studio had three exits, said rescue officials and television staff. Fire fighters found three bodies in a stairwell at one of the exits which was shut from the inside with a childproof lock. They said the three appeared to have been unable to open the lock and escape to the outside
The rescue officials said that the fire had been caused by a short circuit, either in the wall socket or in an air-conditioner wire. He said that the electricity wiring in the studio sat next to the foam insulation, which was why the blaze erupted so suddenly. He said the burning foam falling from the ceiling had quickly set fire to furniture and other material on the set. They said that it took three hours to control the fire.
Habib Mufti, Sahibzada Muhammad Kashif Chishti, Muhammad Junaid, Muhammad Qaisar, Hassan, Mudassar Hussain, Muhammad Shabbir, Tahir, Munir, Mazhar, Hamid and Gul Zaman were injured in the fire and treated at Mayo Hospital.
Doctors said that host Asim Obaid and production chief Rasheed Dogar were in critical condition, the latter more so.
Racecourse Station House Officer Umar Farooq told The Express Tribune that an FIR had been registered against Mehmood Ansari, the owner of Koh-i-Noor TV, for offences under Sections 302 (murder) and 427 (mischief causing damage) of the Pakistan Penal Code. Ansari, who also owned the building, has been arrested, he said.
The case was registered on the basis of a complaint filed by Aslam Butt, the father of one of the victims. He said that the television channel had taken no safety measures for its guests. He said the tragedy was a result of the owner’s negligence.
DCO Noorul Amin Mengal later ordered the building sealed. He also directed the police to arrest the owner of the building for ignoring safety regulations. He appealed to building owners to adopt safety measures against short circuiting. He also directed government departments to survey and identify buildings which were a fire hazard.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2012.