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KARACHI, Jan 2 A big fire that broke out at Chawla Market in Nazimabad area in the small hours of Saturday destroyed at least eight shops and caused extensive damage to four flats on the first floor of the building, officials said.

The cause of the fire was yet to be established, the officials said, adding that it took three hours for seven fire tenders to put out the blaze.

According to the officials, the fire started in a cloth shop and engulfed the seven adjoining shops in the market. Later, the blaze spread to four residential flats on the first floor of the two-storey building.

“There are some 20 shops and about a dozen residential flats in the Chawla Market building located in Nazimabad No.1,” said an official of the city government's fire department.

“Seven tenders took part in the firefighting operation and it took them nearly three hours to put out the fire,” he said, adding that eight shops, four flats and two motorcycles were gutted before the blaze was brought under control.

He said there were no casualties because all occupants of the residential flats and other people were evacuated by the firefighters before the fire could spread to more shops and the upper storey.

He apprehended that losses could be in millions as all the eight gutted shops had big stocks of merchandise and the destroyed flats were also fully furnished.

The area police said initial findings did not point to an arson but investigators were trying to find a clue to the cause of the blaze.

“We have not registered a case as it seems to be an accidental fire,” said an official of the Rizvia police station. “Investigations are on and if something suspicious emerges, we will register an FIR.”

Earlier, nearly 12 huts were reduced to ashes by a fire that broke out in a locality along the main University Road, officials said. They said that a bonfire usually lit by inmates of the hutment to protect themselves from cold might have spread all around and engulfed all the huts.

Fire-fighters said the blaze had already caused considerable damage by the time they reached the scene. The affected people also lost their cattle to the fire, they added.

“Shantytowns comprising such huts are always at risk of fires amid gusty winds and low humidity,” said an official at the Central Fire Station.