Updated Apr 19, 2018 10:33am

Two children die, 17 huts destroyed in Gulistan-i-Jauhar fire

Shazia Hasan

KARACHI: Two children died and at least 17 huts were gutted in a fire started accidentally by one of the victims in the hilly part of Gulistan-i-Jauhar on Wednesday.

Fire brigade officials said that they received information about the blaze in Jauhar’s Block 1 huts at around 2.43pm. They sent four fire tenders, which managed to put out the blaze at about 4.40pm.

The sight of burnt household goods, kitchen items, clothes, trunks and just the iron frames of charpoys greeted you as you stepped inside the plot with a boundary wall but no gate. The stench was overbearing and the sobs of the mothers who had lost their children in the fire were heartbreaking.

Two-year-old Yousuf was fast asleep in his hammock as his cousin, five-year-old Rashid, fiddled with their little gas stove trying to cook an egg for himself. “He burnt his hand in the fire while cooking the egg and jerked backwards. The sudden action made him bump into their gas cylinder right next to the stove while tripping it over,” said the elderly Lal Khatoon, an inhabitant of one of the huts also destroyed in the fire.

A number of people lost their life savings in the blaze

She added that it caused an explosion with a sudden burst of flames. “The flames reached a motorcycle parked nearby before an even bigger explosion which spread to all us poor people’s nine makeshift dwellings inside this plot and the next one where another eight also caught fire in no time at all,” she said.

Mothers of victims narrate ordeal

Many suffered burn injuries as they ran outside or dived into the flames to save loved ones. Rashid could not be saved. Neither could his little cousin Yousuf be saved. The children were alone in their hut.

“I am a maasi [maid], working from morning till late afternoon cleaning people’s homes and washing dishes,” wept Rashid’s mother Zarina. “I wake up early, before dawn every day to cook breakfast and lunch for my children, which I leave for them near the stove. Rashid liked fried eggs, which he has learnt to cook himself. He was fast asleep when I left home today. How was I to know it was the last time I would see him breathing?” she screamed, beating her chest as the other women tried to console her.

“I was also working, cleaning floors when one of my neighbours from here came running. She had an idea of the houses I work at and she had looked for me at two or three other houses before catching up with me to give me the bad news,” said the other inconsolable woman, Kaniz, Yousuf’s mother. “I routinely left my baby at my sister’s jhuggi [hut] so that both children were not alone. Her boy kept mine’s company and played with him if he woke up while I was working. Now they died together, too,” cried the young mother.

Among the injured was 10-year-old Sumaira, who had second-degree burns on the left arm and gashes on her right arm. She had held on to her one-year-old sister Saira before ordering her other two younger sisters and brother, who were old enough to understand the urgency of the situation, to run outside and save their lives as she found herself surrounded by the flames. Her only chance was scaling the side boundary wall, which left gashes on her right arm as the left one with which she tightly held on to her baby sister received the burns.

“I usually accompany my mother to clean houses with my baby sister but both of us were home today as we were suffering from fever,” the brave young girl told Dawn.

Lal Khatoon, the elderly woman, said that she lost all her money in the fire. “I had invested my savings in a monthly committee and had just received Rs100,000, which I had kept in a bag under a pile of quilts and clothes on my steel trunk. Everything, including my money and my daughter-in-law’s dowry was burnt. I am ruined,” she said. Then watching the grieving mothers of the dead children, she wiped away her own tears and quietly sat down on a pile of bricks lying in a corner of the plot.

Several people from the surrounding bungalows in the area also visited the plot to condole with the families. “These poor folk come to Karachi from their villages in the Punjab in search of some work, which only helps them feed their families. Not being able to afford a proper roof over their heads, they settle in vacant plots like these with the help of contractors who also regularly take some money as rent from them. Today’s incident is a terrible tragedy. May God Almighty keep everyone safe,” said an affluent neighbour.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2018

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