A preliminary report prepared by the Fire Brigade Department has stated that there was “no kind of public safety system” in place at the commercial high-rise building in Karachi’s Gulistan-i-Jauhar area which caught on fire over the weekend, it emerged on Tuesday.
At least 11 people died while five others were injured after a blaze erupted inside the R.J. Shopping Mall at 6:20am on Saturday because of a suspected short circuit.
The fire erupted on the fourth floor before spreading to other parts of the building. According to officials, the deaths occurred because the building had no ventilation. A police team was subsequently formed to investigate the fire.
On Sunday, police had registered a first information report (FIR) of the fire at the Sharea Faisal police station. The case was registered on behalf of the state but no one was nominated in the FIR. Instead, the FIR stated that the “connivance” of K-Electric (KE) and other institutions — which gave approval for the building’s map — would be probed.
A preliminary report prepared by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s Fire Brigade Department, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, said that emergency exit doors, exit signs, existing preventive mechanisms and emergency lighting or power backup were “not available” in the ill-fated building.
“No kind of public safety system was available in R.J. Mall, including fire safety/fighting equipment and emergency exits,” the report said.
It added that the department did not receive timely information about the fire and the third and fourth floors were “burning severely” when the fire brigade reached the scene. It said that staff faced difficulty in firefighting operations due to the “intense smoke”, adding that the fire’s cause could not be determined.
The report said that the employees of the offices located in the building were rescued by smashing through doors, adding that all 11 deaths occurred due to “smoke inhalation and suffocation”. The report said that the financial losses could not currently be estimated correctly.
Mayor says cantt board should have put out fire
Meanwhile, Karachi Mayor Murtaza Wahab said the building was neither regularised nor under the domain of the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) but instead came under the Cantonment Board Faisal (CBF). Therefore, the cantonment board should have taken responsibility for putting the fire out, he said.
Talking to the media in Karachi, he said that instead of lauding the services of the fire brigade, it was admonished by officials. He also criticised the media reporting on the issue, asking why the SBCA was being highlighted for its inspection visit when the CBF should have done so.
“At least the issue should be identified. I repeatedly say that the multiple jurisdictions in our city are the biggest headache for the enforcement of law in our city,” the mayor said, adding that there was a need to find an easy solution to the issue, “otherwise, matters can not be solved in a sustainable manner.”
Wahab further said: “Institutions should be proactive, not reactive in such matters. We should learn from any mistake and learn a lesson,” he said.
The mayor said the fire could have been prevented if safety measures such as sprinklers had been in place and citizens could have made a timely escape if fire safety exits had been added.
Wahab emphasised he wanted to work together with all institutions to move forward to serve the people, adding that criticism alone would not solve anything.
The mayor said that 432 buildings were declared unsafe by the SBCA but people did not evacuate them despite the structures being dangerous. He said these issues needed to be resolved.
In a symposium held in Karachi last week, city planners, engineers and building plans experts had pointed out that almost 90 per cent of residential, commercial and industrial buildings in Karachi did not have fire protection and fire extinguishing systems.
All the experts present at the symposium had agreed that the criminal negligence of regulatory bodies such as the SBCA had put the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the city at risk.