RAWALPINDI: Although the Rawalpindi district administration has begun an inquiry into the house fire that killed four people earlier this week, the incident has created public distrust in government departments responsible for dealing with such cases.

The fire broke out on Jan 15 amid wedding celebrations, killing four people including the bride-to-be and injuring one.

Rumours have circulated since the incident that the fire was caused by a gas compressor, but one of the victims’ relatives, Chaudhry Nisar, told Dawn this was not the case.

Relatives of victims, local residents criticise response by fire, rescue officials and hospitals

“We do not have any problems with Sui gas in the area, so no one uses gas compressors here. The fire erupted because of an electric short circuit, and the girls died of suffocation,” he said.

Mr Nisar explained that the day of the fire, Jan 15, had been the mehndi, and the girls slept at around 6am. He was at his shop at noon when he learned of the fire at his house.

“I rushed there and was told the fire erupted in the drawing room, on the ground floor. Everyone ran out of the house but the five girls, including the bride, who were in a room on the first floor,” he said.

“An ambulance and fire tender also reached there. I asked them to recover the girls, but they said they would extinguish the fire first. Then, two or three minutes later, the water either ran out or it was stopped for some other reason. The person holding the hose was shouting to increase the pressure, but the person standing near the fire tender did not respond at all.”

A second fire tender came to the house, but its hose was too short and the lock on the hose was out-of-order, so it was not functioning either, Mr Nisar said.

He said: “In the meantime, residents and students from a nearby house got to the first floor of the house. They brought out the five girls, so I said let the house burn and the girls, who were alive but seemed to be suffocating, should be shifted to a hospital. But there was a severe traffic jam and the traffic police were not available.”

There was just one ambulance, which did not have any first aid arrangements, so one of the victims was put in the ambulance and the other four in private cars, and driven to Benazir Bhutto Hospital (BBH).

“The doctors at BBH refused to admit the patients, saying that patients with burn injuries must be taken to Holy Family Hospital (HFH). We took them to HFH, but there the doctors said the girls were not burnt but had suffocated, and should be taken to the medical ward.

“Because of everything that happened, four of the girls died and only one survived,” he said, adding: “If Shahbaz Sharif had been chief minister all those responsible would be suspended.”

Mr Nisar added that no one from the government has visited the house.

“Sheikh Rashid visited outside the house and left after a photo session,” he said, but added that Ali Zaidi, the minister for maritime affairs, had visited the family and said Fateha with them.

“I have reached the conclusion that one should always be ready for his protection and never trust government departments, which spend billions of rupees from the exchequer but never respond during such incidents,” he said.

Shahzeb Tariq, the brother of the bride-to-be, said his sister Sana Tariq, 24 and cousins Manahil Tahir, 13, Hafsa Zulfiqar, 22, and Hina Rasheed 24, died, while Hafsa’s twin sister Nimra Zulfiqar survived.

Nadeem Akhtar, a resident, said the fire did not erupt due to a gas compressor because this area did not have any problems with Sui gas.

“The fire erupted in the drawing room, and no one places a gas compressor in the drawing room. I am an eyewitness to what happened, and I can say that government officials did not bother to save the girls. And no one has bothered to suspend the officials responsible,” he said.

Bilal Abbasi, who also lives nearby, said the response by the government departments was lethargic.

“The new government has disappointed us, because no one has taken notice of such an unfortunate incident,” he said.

Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) Saima Younus has visited the residence to inspect it. Asghar Khan, a district administration official who accompanied her, told Dawn that the district administration has begun an inquiry into the fire, and a report has also been lodged with the Sadiqabad police.

“It may take a few days to complete the inquiry, and that is why the ADC has visited. It is really an unfortunate incident and we are also investigating whether there was negligence by Rescue 1122, hospitals or any other department,” he said.

In response to a question, Mr Khan said the district administration may recommend compensation for the family of the victims.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2019