LAHORE: The timing of the fire that engulfed the Lahore Development Authority Plaza on Egerton Road will be a key question for the inquiry team investigating the disaster, with Rescue 1122 and the LDA laying the blame on each other.
At least 25 people were killed in the disaster some by burns or smoke inhalation and some who plummeted several floors in an attempt to escape the flames making it the deadliest fire in the city since the Bund Road shoe factory blaze in September 2012.
The fire began at the seventh floor of the nine-storey building and eventually spread to the two floors above and one below. However, LDA and Rescue 1122 officials gave conflicting accounts of exactly how long it was before fire fighters were called to the scene.
LDA officials, speaking to The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity as they said they were not authorised to speak to the media, claimed that Rescue 1122 had been called as soon as the fire began, but their response was less than efficient.
“They arrived quickly, but for a long time they were ineffective. They were spraying water through low-pressure hoses that didn’t even reach the fire,” said an official.
The LDA officials said that the rescuers could have saved more lives if they had quickly gone into the building and attacked the fire rather than seek to evacuate people via the windows. They also claimed that the fire inside the building spread when the rescue helicopters arrived and fanned the flames. They added that the Rescue 1122 safety nets were very small and one of the jumpers had missed the net and died.
Rescue 1122 Public Relations Officer Jam Sajjad said that when the emergency services arrived at the scene, the fire was already fully developed, indicating that they had been called in late. He said that LDA officials probably tried initially to put out the fire themselves, when they should have called Rescue 1122 right away. He said that when fire fighters entered the building after the blaze had been put out, they found used fire extinguishers on the seventh floor. “Had we been called in earlier, it would have been easier,” he said.
Sajjad said that the fire fighting operation was made harder by ramps around the building which prevented ladder vehicles from getting nearer to the structure. He said that the second ladder vehicle had arrived at the scene within minutes of being called. LDA PRO Sohail Janjua said that Rescue 1122 was called as soon as the fire started. He said that the LDA appeared to lack equipment. He said that the LDA Plaza was in compliance with building bylaws. “It has fire alarms and fire exits which saved many lives,” he said.
But he admitted that many people had been unaware of the location of the fire exits. He said that some of the casualties could have been avoided if people had evacuated the building as soon as they heard the alarm. “Some people assumed that it was a routine matter and stayed on in the building,” he said.
The provincial government has ordered an inquiry into the incident. Rescue 1122 officials said that they had submitted their report to the inquiry team on Sunday.
All the LDA directorates destroyed in the fire must resume their work at the LDA office in Johar Town from Monday, said LDA Director General Dr Ijaz Munir. At a meeting at the office, he urged officials to quickly restore the LDA to normal function.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2013.