The death toll from the fire that ripped through a multi-storey commercial-cum-residential building located near Ayesha Manzil in Karachi’s Federal B Area a day earlier has increased to four, officials said on Thursday.
Late on Wednesday evening, 12 fire engines, two snorkels and two bowsers brought under control the fire that erupted in the six-storey building after several hours of hectic efforts. Officials had said three people were killed and two sustained burn injuries in the blaze.
Witnesses had said the fire erupted in a mattress shop located at the front of the building and then later spread throughout the structure.
Immediately after the incident, caretaker Sindh Chief Minister retired Justice Maqbool Baqar ordered a probe.
Yesterday’s blaze was the second incident of fire in under a fortnight. On Nov 25, a fire that erupted in a six-storey building on Rashid Minhas Road claimed 11 lives.
Speaking to Dawn.com earlier today, Central Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Faisal Abdullah Chachar said the death toll from the Ayesha Manzil fire had increased to five.
He said four victims were brought dead to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital while a fifth had died during treatment at Civil Hospital.
However, police surgeon Dr Summaiya Syed later told Dawn.com that the person who was brought to Civil Hospital was not injured in yesterday’s fire and was a “separate case”.
She said 22-year-old Mustafa Rehman was brought to the hospital from Anarkali Apartments and succumbed to his wounds during treatment.
Meanwhile, Chachar said that Jauharabad police had registered a first information report (FIR) in connection with the fire. He said the case was lodged on behalf of the state under Sections 337-A (i) (shajjah-i-khafifah), 322 (manslaughter), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc), 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage to amount of one hundred rupees), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of Pakistan Penal Code.
He said that an investigation team led by the Central SSP investigation would determine the cause of the fire and would also determine those responsible. Chachar said the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) had submitted a report to the Karachi Central deputy commissioner after examining the building.
“The SBCA has cleared the building from the first to the fourth floor. Thus, the Central DC has allowed the residents to live in their flats,” he said.
‘No emergency exit’
The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s (KMC) fire brigade chief fire officer, Ishtiaq Ahmed told Dawn.com that they have completed the cooling and searching operation.
He said the exact cause of the fire was being ascertained but witnesses claimed that that a “small fire” had initially erupted in a mattress shop. He said shopkeepers attempted to control it instead of calling the fire brigade.
He said the fire brigade was informed about the blaze after a delay of half-an-hour, adding that the flames had engulfed the whole building by the time they reached.
Sharing initial findings, the fire chief said there was no emergency exit in the building. He also said that there was also no firefighting equipment present.
Ahmed said that there were 125 shops including warehouses on the mezzanine floor, which were completely burnt. He said there were a total 169 shops on the ground floor that were also completely destroyed, bringing the total number to 294.
He said there were 72 flats on located on the upper four floors. He said only one flat on the third floor was completely gutted while the rest were in tact. He said two other apartments had also suffered minor damage.
The fire chief said since only one flat was destroyed, the building was livable albeit with some repair.
Sindh CM says shelters, food provided to affected residents
Meanwhile, the caretaker Sindh CM vowed to ensure speedy and detailed inspection of building across Karachi. Speaking to media persons at the fire site, he said relevant action would be taken once the inquiry report of yesterday’s fire was issued.
“We are standing with the victims in their pain and will try to comfort them in every possible way,” Baqar said, adding that residents of the building wanted to inspect their houses but they were stopped by the authorities.
He added that the district administration had offered shelters and food to all the affected people.
Elaborating on measures to prevent similar incidents in the future, the chief minister said strict implementation of building rules and codes would be made mandatory among other actions.
The chief minister had also held the SBCA responsible for the fire. “Had the SBCA implemented all the building codes such a huge fire would not have claimed innocent lives and gutted 74 apartments and 130 shops,” he deplored.
“Every building must be equipped with a fire safety system and fire tender route, but I am sorry to say that all these important safety measures have been ignored,” he said.
He said he had already ordered safety and security audits of public and private buildings so that such incidents could be avoided, adding that he would ensure the safety of all “important buildings” to overcome any shortcomings.
He said residents of the building would only be allowed to visit their apartment unit one-by-one to secure any remaining household items and lock their homes.
Who will compensate for losses, asks MQM-P
Earlier, in a visit to the fire site, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui held the PPP responsible for the incident.
“Who should the people of Karachi blame for those who were killed and burned?” he asked. “The public need to know those who are responsible for turning this city into a jungle.”
Siddiqui stated that Karachi had seen several of its people being killed on the streets. He demanded that the caretaker chief minister should come forth and show “how much power does he have”.
MQM-P’s Dr Farooq Sattar lamented the absence of officials at the building, saying that there was no one present who could comfort the bereaved families.
“Who will compensate these people? Who will bring back their homes and shops? These are all questions that need to be answered […] for God sake please listen to our voices,” he added.