Hundreds of workers lose jobs as fire destroys factory

It took 24 hours to douse the blazes.

KARACHI: After a hectic effort of 24 hours, firefighters were able to douse the blaze that erupted at a textile mill in SITE. However, neither could they avert the loss worth millions of rupees nor were they able to save the jobs of hundreds of its workers.

A significant part of the building collapsed and the remaining has been declared unstable. The fire erupted at 6pm on Friday evening at KBI Textile Mills situated opposite the Valika Chowrangi. Besides burning thread, cotton and machines worth millions of rupees, one part of the building collapsed due to the intense fire. The remaining building was declared unstable by the authorities.

Firefighters were summoned with more than 40 fire tenders from the entire city including the Karachi Port Trust and Defence Housing Authority to participate in the operation. However, the blaze could not be contained until after 24 hours of hectic effort.

An extra contingent of police was also summoned to help the firefighters in their operation. "So far, we have not found any criminal activity behind the fire and the owner of the factory has yet to record his statement," said SHO Fasihuz Zaman. "Apparently, it was an accident and a fire broke out due to a short circuit, but investigations are underway." He said that a case will be registered if any criminal element is found.

Who is to be blamed?

While the blaze was controlled after long hours, the question remains: what has been saved? Hundreds of workers have been rendered jobless as the factory has been completely damaged. Though the cause of the fire has yet to be ascertained, it was declared a third-degree fire by the firefighters. The factory, spread on an area of about 2.5 acres and established at least 20 years ago, had more than 400 workers inside when the fire broke out. Though all of them remained unhurt, they seemed worried about their future as the factory was completely gutted in the fire.  "We were working as per routine when suddenly people from the godown started screaming and running here to there," said a worker, Asif Ali. "Blazes have been put down but now this fire has left hundreds of us jobless."

SITE Association also expressed concerns over the incident. "Of course, the firefighters controlled the blazes but that was after the entire mill was gutted in the fire," said SITE Association chairperson Younus Bashir while talking to the media at the fire site. "Unfortunately, the firefighters have no proper gadgets. They don't even have oxygen masks for their own safety." The fire extinguishment operation was interrupted at least twice. At one time, there was a shortage of water. At others, fire trucks ran out of fuel.

"They [fire fighters] did not even have enough bowsers to fulfil the shortage of the water at the site," said a company official requesting anonymity. "The vehicles kept on going back to fill water before restarting the operation which resulted in delay. The unavailability of fire-fighting foam to suppress the fire also contributed to the failure in saving the factory from destruction."

The other face of the coin

On the other hand, fire brigade officials laid the blame on the factory administration. "It is actually very difficult to control the blazes at a site where a huge quantity of chemicals, yarns and cotton are stocked and burning," said a fire department spokesperson.

Meanwhile, a ground-plus-two-storey building was gutted in fire in Liaquatabad on Saturday. Fire brigade officials said that the blaze erupted in a plastic factory located on the ground floor that also engulfed the upper floors. However, no loss of life was reported and the cause of the fire has yet to be ascertained.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 7th, 2014.


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