LAHORE: A man died while eight other people, a woman among them, suffered multiple burns when a fire broke out in a multistorey shopping plaza on M.M. Alam Road on Saturday.
Many people including residents of the apartments located on an upper storey also got trapped for a couple of hours owing to alleged delay in the rescue operation.
Imran, 50, jumped off the building in a bid to escape fire but couldn’t survive in the hospital to which he was immediately shifted with multiple head and bone fractures.
In another disturbing scene, a man was seen scaling down the building with the help of a rope to avoid flames. He suffered multiple injuries after he lost grip and fell on the ground. Few others were also seen holding ropes and the trapped people started efforts after the Rescue 1122 teams failed to quickly mobilise their equipped vehicles.
Plaza is owned by Shahbaz’s son-in-law
The emergency service snorkel truck which comes in handy in such a situation couldn’t reach the site and rescuers claimed that it got stuck in the traffic.
The fire erupted on the fourth floor of the 14-storey Ali Tower that houses apartments, offices and shops at its upper portions besides call centres. It spread to upper floors of the building causing a panic in the adjoining buildings as hundreds of traders, shopkeepers and residents gathered there.
The eight vehicles of the Rescue 1122 were dispatched after they got emergency call about the fire. Officials said many people were trapped in the upper storeys of the building and couldn’t come out of the plaza due to dense smoke.
Many of them including women helplessly stood on the balconies of upper floors of the building to avoid suffocation.
An eyewitness said the emergency exit was not working at that time.
Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan said two persons were injured when they jumped off the building to escape fire. “All other people trapped in the building were rescued after an effort of few hours,” he said, adding that the fire was extinguished and the cooling process was under way.
He said the fact that the plaza was owned by former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif’s son-in-law Ali Imran led to suspicion that the fire incident might have been planned to damage record. Investigations had been ordered to dig out the cause of the fire, the minister told the reporters.
Officials of the Rescue 1122 told the media that the building had proper emergency exit points which helped a majority of the people to come out. They said seven fire tenders extinguished the flames after efforts of few hours.
Deputy Commissioner Anwarul Haq said the fire brigade personnel immediately arrived after the blaze erupted at the building’s basement.
SAFETY COMMISSION: The shopping mall was not mentioned in the list of the 199 buildings (having four storeys and above) inspected by a fire safety commission in 2014 to identify the issues related to construction and other arrangements to deal with any fire emergency.
“The commission comprising officials of the Rescue 1122, the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) and other departments had been constituted by the Lahore High Court (LHC) after it took suo motu notice of the tragic fire incident at the LDA plaza situated on Egerton road,” an LDA official told Dawn.
He said though the commission had inspected Ali Tower and identified some flaws there, its members didn’t include or mention it in the list of the visited buildings.
Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2018