In a report bound to raise questions about the cause of the LDA Plaza inferno of May 9 that killed 25 people, the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA) has concluded that a small fire at the seventh floor of the same building six weeks later was not an accident.
The PFSA’s crime scene report supports DCO Naseem Sadiq’s claims after the incident on June 29 that someone had brought important files to the seventh floor of the building – which, at the time, was being prepared for the demolition of its top three storeys – and set them on fire.
The agency’s report states that the scene of the fire had been prepped to look like an accident. The report rules out short-circuiting or an overheated flood light as the cause of the fire, as had been claimed by the Lahore Development Authority in a report issued in response to the DCO’s allegations.
On May 9, a fire at the building killed 25 people, mostly LDA employees. It took fire fighters 36 hours to put out the blaze. Engineers later declared the top three floors of the nine-storey building unsafe and a contractor was hired to demolish them. There has been no word from the government on the findings of an inquiry into the May 9 fire.
Crime scene investigation
A PFSA crime scene investigation (CSI) unit visited the scene of the blaze on the night of June 29, interviewed the project manager of the contractor working at the site and the LDA official to last visit it, and analysed video footage, pictures and samples collected from the scene.
The agency’s analysts ruled out the possibility that the fire was sparked by an overheated floodlight which is the explanation given by the LDA’s report on the basis of the burn pattern on the documents found at the scene. If the floodlight was where the fire started, it would follow a pattern away from the heat intensity of the light, which was not the case. Further, the metallic floodlight and reflector had melted to an extent not possible in such a fire.
The fire only spread along a 9X6 square feet area along the eastern wall of the floor, which was the only area where files and documents were present.
According to the security guards at the building site and CCTV footage, they first saw the glow from the fire and then the smoke. If the fire had been sparked by a short circuit or the heat of the floodlight on paper, they would have seen smoke first and then the glow of the fire.
The report stated that the pristine condition of the documents, folders and envelopes found at the scene suggested that they had not been dug out from the debris of the May 9 fire, as claimed in the Lahore Development Authority report, but had been brought there at a later date.
Though the site project manager told the PFSA that four CCTV cameras and three floodlights had been put up at the scene, the CSI unit saw only two cameras and one floodlight. It was only provided footage from two cameras. Footage from the scene shows an empty space where a camera holder is located, suggesting the camera had been removed.
The report also states that some items – a set of glasses, a kettle and some stationery – were left on a shelf right above the epicentre of the fire for unspecified reasons.
Debris collected from seven locations at the scene were analysed for traces of fire accelerant, but none was found. The accelerant may have been washed away by fire fighters as they put out the blaze, states the report.
Lahore Development Authority Law Director Chaudhry Ijaz Mehmood, whose office used to be located on the seventh floor and who visited the site on the day of the blaze, did not give a detailed statement to the PFSA.
The PFSA report was formally requested by the Punjab Police. Commissioner Imdadullah Bosal has also sent a report on the fire to the Punjab government.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2013.