A fire at a chemicals godown in Delhi Gate on Friday not only destroyed merchandise worth millions of rupees before it was put out after more than nine hours of fire fighting, but also threatened to drive the entire walled City population away.
Rescue officials said that the cause of the fire had not been ascertained. They said that they had received a call about the fire in a godown near Shah Muhammad Ghaus at 7:15pm. They later found out that chemicals were kept at the godown. A proper operation to extinguish the fire began at around 10pm, they said.
They said fire fighters and Rescue teams managed to control the fire after hectic efforts of more than nine hours.
Rescue officials said that they had initially used water to douse the fire but it had reacted with some of the chemicals and fed the fire. “Chemical fires are not easy to extinguish. Foam was used later to put it out,” a Rescue official said. The neighbouring godowns in the area were emptied of chemicals that could feed the fire, they said. As many as 12 fire fighting vehicles and 70 Rescuers were part of the operation.
The godown was housed in a 7-marla, five-storey house that had only one door so that fire fighting took longer, Rescue 1122 Spokesperson Jam Sajjad said.
Residents of the area reported breathing problems due to the poisonous fumes. Many had to leave their houses and spend the night in open spaces around Circular Road. At least three women fainted.
Police arrested the godown’s owners Sheikh Amir and Sheikh Imran after an FIR was registered against them under Sections 285 and 286 of the PPC on the advice of Civil Defence authorities. The investigation officer said that they were granted bail by a special judicial magistrate on Saturday.
Amir and Imran told police that the fire had erupted in the section of the warehouse where chemicals used in the textile industry, Glover salt (sodium sulphate) and sodium hydro sulphite, were kept. Other chemicals at the warehouse were acetic acid, citric acid, sulphur black and hydrogen peroxide.
“Sodium hydro-sulphite reacts with water and a fire often breaks out with a small explosion,” former Pakistan Chemicals and Dyes Association chairman Shaukat Riaz told The Express Tribune. “These chemicals are the most commonly used in the industry. Such incidents can be avoided by following basic precautions,” he said.
An Environment Protection Department inspector who visited the scene said that sodium sulphate reacted with water and released sulphur dioxide and sodium trioxide gases both having a pungent smell. The fumes had spread as far as Bhaati Gate, he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2013.