LAHORE: A short circuit has been identified as primary reason for the Hafeez Centre inferno that caused a loss of billions of rupees to the traders.
The cause has been ascertained during preliminary inquiry which had been ordered by the commissioner.
Also, the business community has urged the Punjab government and the Lahore administration to expedite efforts for resumption of trade activities at the Hafiz Centre and announce a compensation package for those who have lost their livelihood in the fire tragedy.
“According to a preliminary report, a short-circuit has been identified as the basic reason behind eruption of fire that gradually engulfed a large number of shops and burnt everything to ashes. There is no evidence of any other reason,” Irfan Iqbal Sheikh, one of the members of a 14-member committee headed by the deputy commissioner, observed in the preliminary inquiry report submitted to the Lahore commissioner on Monday night.
Businessmen seek early resumption of trade
Mr Sheikh, a former Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) president, said the committee members were of the view that all firefighters strenuously worked to extinguish the massive fire and no delay on the part of the Rescue 1122 field formations proved.
“Since it was all due to short-circuiting, all those who participated in the rescue services worked really hard,” he added.
He said the real challenge at the moment is restoration of business activities at the centre. “We have been given a time of seven days as the relevant agencies have started inspecting all parts of the building. They have been asked to submit structure stability report within a shortest time,” he said.
Another member of the fact-finding committee told Dawn that the fire started erupting owing to short-circuiting at a shop probably between 3am and 4am. “The Rescue 1122 representative revealed during the meeting of the committee that the system received call at 6:11am. And the team reached the site at 6:17am. Since the fire’s intensity was too much, the rescue teams informed their head who reached there at 7am,” the committee member said.
The official, who requested that he not be named, said the rescue official also offered the committee members to check the rescue teams’ response time from the trackers installed in the vehicles. He said the committee members also came to know that the fire-fighting system installed in the building was out of order. The members also learnt that the electricity wires were not clipped / bundled properly, posing a great threat of short-circuiting and eruption of fire in the building.
“We also learnt that there was too much encroachment on the floors of the building; each shop had five to six counters placed in front for various businesses. Even toilets were found to be converted into shops,” the official said.
He said the teams rescued 25 shopkeepers trapped in the fire and saved 782 out of 989 shops. “But, unfortunately, the fire-fighters couldn’t save the goods lying in 207 shops as the fire developed highly that took almost a day to extinguish,” he said.
Meanwhile, the traders whose shops and goods remained safe started getting new shops on rent in the adjacent plazas to resume their business activities. “Hafiz Centre has been sealed. No one knows how much time it will take to open. That’s why we have started searching for new shops on rent temporarily so that we can resume our businesses,” a trader said.
The DC could not be contacted for updates despite efforts by this reporter.
Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2020