KARACHI, Sept 25: The fire department submitted on Tuesday its final report to an inquiry tribunal investigating the Baldia Town garment factory inferno, which killed more than 250 workers on Sept 11, and admitted that it did not have the means to determine the cause of a fire.
The report submitted by chief fire officer Ehtashamuddin to the Sindh government-established tribunal headed by retired Justice Zahid Qurban Alvi, however, ‘assessed’ the cause to be a short circuit.
In the final report the department gave details of its operation. It said the provincial institutions, including the Sindh Industrial and Trading Estate Limited and Civil Defence, failed to keep checks on the ‘serious violations’ of the building and safety rules by Ali Enterprises.
“Would it be right to say that a short circuit could be the cause of the fire, but you don’t have the expertise to declare it so?” asked Justice Alvi and the chief fire officer replied in the affirmative.
“Neither do we have the expertise nor do laboratories carry out a forensic examination of the affected place. The cause of the fire we have mentioned in the report is based on our assessment and experience, but not as a result of a technical analysis,” he said, adding that other causes of the fire could not be ruled out. The tribunal recorded a fresh statement of Mr Ehtashamuddin to seek answers to the questions raised by Shahid Bhaila, the eldest son of Ali Enterprises owner Ali Bhaila, and a co-accused in the case, who blamed the deadly episode mostly on the firefighting and rescue operation.
The chief fire officer produced the record of time of calls made from the garment factory to the SITE and Lyari fire stations with the complaint of a fire and the department’s report of fire tenders reaching the site.
“Initially two fire tenders reached the fire site and within the next few minutes, it was declared a third-degree fire and more tenders were called in,” said Mr Ehtashamuddin.
He, however, said he was surprised how such a large number of people failed to run to safety despite the fact that the fire took several minutes to engulf the building.
“Most of the people died on the second floor,” he said while sharing details of the firefighting operation. “Two factors proved fatal: the smoke which turned toxic and the fire. The smoke made people fall unconscious, and then they were burnt to death.”
The chief fire officer recalled that the bodies recovered from the second floor were charred beyond recognition though a number of victims found in the basement of the factory did not have burn wounds and appeared to have died from suffocation.
Justice Alvi deplored the ‘unfortunate fact’ that the country had not yet developed any institution which could have been helpful in such a situation.
The tribunal adjourned its proceedings and asked the surviving labourers of Ali Enterprises to appear before it on Wednesday morning as they had failed to do so on Tuesday. The tribunal chief also showed an interest in recording statements of injured labourers who were being treated at different city hospitals.