Karachi departmental store fire kills 1

Goods worth millions of rupees destroyed

A fire broke out in the warehouse of a low-cost departmental store located opposite Karachi Central Jail on Wednesday morning that gutted goods worth millions and killed one person.

According to the fire department, the fire broke out at around 11:10am, and at least 11 fire tenders, and two bowers worked for nearly four hours from three different sides to control it. At least three people stuck on the 13th floor of the building were provided with first aid, including a pregnant woman. Earlier, the fire department said that the fire was so intense that they had raised the fire alert level to a category-III – the highest classification for a fire. Moreover, they said that their quick action prevented the fire from rising to the upper floors.

Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Mubeen Ahmed told the media persons that the fire broke out in the basement of the departmental store. He added that the departmental store had set up their warehouse in the basement. “No one is allowed to store goods in the basement because if a fire erupts in the basement, it weakens the structure of the building,” he said. Asked about the challenges he faced in combating the fire, he said that there were limited access routes to the basement, which made it difficult to tackle the fire.

Karachi Administrator Murtaza Wahab visited the site and said that all inhabitants of the building had been evacuated. Some elderly and sick, who could not use the emergency stairs, were evacuated by rescue teams, he said. “Our staff have inspected the building and have evacuated everyone,” he said. Asked about the storage of goods in the basement, Murtaza Wahab said that it was the building control authority’s job to check if that was the case and that they will check the map of the building to determine whether a violation took place.

“Our target at the moment is to minimize the damage,” he said, adding, “we are focusing on a relief operation.” Meanwhile, officials of the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) said that they will be inspecting the building in the coming days and draft a report. Officials added that first a team from District East will inspect the building and draft a report which will be submitted to the SBCA technical team. The technical team will in turn inspect the building and review the report by the District East and determine the extent of damage to the building.

Efforts were still being made to put out the fire when this story was filed.

A person died and three fell unconscious after inhaling smoke from the fire, a spokesperson for the Edhi Foundation said. A fire brigade official said that around 11:15am, they received information about a fire erupting in the basement of the departmental store. Footage from the scene showed plumes of smoke rising from the multi-storey building as officials tried to put out the flames. Thick smoke also engulfed the surrounding area, causing breathing problems for residents and passers-by.

Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s (KMC) Chief Fire Officer Mubeen Ahmed said 11 fire tenders belonging to the corporation, two water bowsers, one snorkel, 13 water tankers from the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board as well as tenders from the Pakistan Navy took part in dousing of the flames. They had managed to control 70 percent of the blaze until evening, he said. “However, officials are facing extreme difficulty as the fire erupted in the basement,” he said, adding that there were no entry or exit routes.

“We are trying to control the blaze by demolishing the walls of the basement in order to access it,” he said. He also lamented the fact that no thought was given to fire safety at the time of constructing the multi-storey building. The official was of the opinion that the goods and materials stored in the basement helped the fire spread rapidly. He said the exact cause of the fire was unknown, adding that the true extent of damage would be known once the fire was completely under control.

Hanif Samoon is a senior journalist based at Thar/Badin and contributes reports from different districts of Sindh to Minute Mirror. He has won a number of awards, including the Agahi Award twice for his stories on health and child rights. He tweets @HanifSamoon1 and can be reached through email at hanifsamoon@gmail.com