KARACHI: Fire can be devastating — for the families of the victims who are scarred for life, for the owners of the ravaged property and for those whose very livelihoods are connected, directly or indirectly, to the destroyed workplace. On Monday, nearly 500 labourers, both men and women, lost their livelihoods when a fire gutted a garment factory in Site. At least eight people, including five female workers, narrowly escaped from being burnt alive.
The ground-plus-two-storey textile mill, located near Valika Chowrangi in Site, caught fire while hundreds of workers were busy inside. Smoke spread inside the building, creating panic among the workers, most of whom managed to escape. However. eight people, including five women, were trapped inside, sustaining minor injuries before being rescued. They were taken to a nearby hospital, from where they were released after receiving first aid.
"I have five children with my wife and also support my elderly parents," said Qasim Khan, one of the workers, adding that he was the sole breadwinner in his family. "It was already difficult for me to live on my limited salary. What will I do now, without a job? There is a massive shortage of jobs in the market."
The workers blamed the fire department for its delay in reaching the site, turning a small blaze into a large one that ravaged the factory. "The fire tenders were at least half an hour late and then only one vehicle showed up, without any backup," claimed factory worker Hashmi Ali.
"There was complete mismanagement by the fire department and the authorities," said another worker, Nasir Shah. "Who is now responsible for snatching our jobs from us — the fire department or the government?" The workers also complained about the shortage of the water to douse the fire, while private tankers had to be called to help extinguish the fire.
For their part, the fire department officials said that they had received information about the fire at around 11:24am. "We do not want to be part of a blame game," said Fareed Ahmed, a fire department official. "I will only say that we were informed late."
Nearly 20 fire tenders participated in the operation, including one each from the Karachi Port Trust and the Cantonment Board Clifton. "We have no snorkels in working condition but we needed one to put out the fire from the upper floors," said one of the firefighters, seeking anonymity.
Firefighters also claimed that they had trouble entering the factory and had to use a bulldozer to break its wall and main entrance. "We put our lives at risk to douse the fire but people here are criticising us," added Ismail, another firefighter.
While nearby factories were evacuated to avoid untoward incidents, a chemical factory next to the garment factory was partially damaged. "It is due to our efforts that the other factories remained safe; they would have been burnt to ashes otherwise," Ismail claimed.
The firefighters also said that the blaze could not be controlled due to the large amount of cotton, polyester, nylon, chemicals and wood inside.
The cause of the fire has yet to be ascertained, although the fire department officials suspect that it broke out due to short-circuit. The factory was still on fire eight hours later despite efforts to control it. Officials said that it would take hours to extinguish the blaze.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2015.