KARACHI: A huge fire erupted in a 19-storey building on I.I. Chundrigar Road in the small hours of Saturday, exposing the inefficiency of the city’s ill-equipped fire department in dealing with fires in high-rise structures.
Officials said that the fire broke out on the ninth floor of the 19-storey Saima Trade Tower at about 4am and spread to its 15th, 16th and 19th floors through air-conditioning ducts.
It took over 12 hours to “control” the fire as cooling work was under way till late night. No casualty was reported.
No casualty reported from building fire
Fourteen fire tenders took part in the day-long fire-fighting operation, Mohammad Aslam, the officer in charge of the fire department’s Boulton Market station, told Dawn at the site of the incident.
Aslam said a lack of fire safety measures in the building and shortage of water hampered the fire-fighting operation. He said the top floor had only one access which also made it difficult to control the fire.
He said four persons, mostly building guards, were rescued.
The chief of Manzoor Colony fire station, Zulfiqar, was injured by glass shards falling from the building during the fire-fighting operation.
The entrance of the building on Dr Ziauddin Ahmad Road was strewn with shards of glass falling from the affected floors.
Several offices were located in the building but the employees were not allowed to enter the premises on Saturday because of the fire.
A newspaper employee whose office was located on the 11th floor told Dawn that they had to make alternative arrangements at another building to bring out the paper the next day.
Chief Fire Officer Tehseen Siddiqui told reporters that the fire department was informed about the incident at around 4.45am by someone from the neighbouring building.
Realising the gravity of the inferno, which had been declared a third-degree fire, more fire tenders were called from across the city.
He believed that the cause of the fire was an electrical short circuit in the building’s air-conditioning system.
He said that a lack of snorkels and fire safety measures made it difficult for the firefighters to control the blaze.
The fire chief conceded that his department had no resources to control a blaze if it erupted on the 18th floor.
He said the fire department’s pumps were around 25 years old and these could not carry water up to the 18th floor with pressure. The city needed modern and big snorkels to control the fire in multistorey buildings, he added.
He claimed that they had informed the authorities concerned about the prevailing state of affairs but no action was taken.
Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar also seconded his views.
“I had warned the Sindh government around four months ago when I was released from prison that the fire department was not properly equipped to tackle fire incidents,” he told reporters at the scene of the blaze.
Referring to the injured fireman, who was hit by glass shards, he said the firefighters even lacked helmets.
He said that since the last eight years no fire equipment was procured. He said the city at least needed two snorkels to meet any eventuality in case fires erupted at two separate places simultaneously.
The mayor blamed the provincial government for corruption in the process of procurement of snorkels.
He conceded that at present the fire department had no equipment to put out a blaze if it broke out on the 17th floor of a high-rise building.
Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2017