Appearance of fire extinguishers ‘after Rashid Minhas Road plaza blaze’ raises eyebrows

Faraz Khan
Tuesday, Nov 28, 2023

The case of Saturday’s tragic blaze at the RJ Shopping Mall has taken a concerning turn with the discovery of fire extinguishers in the mall.

This discovery raises questions about whether the fire extinguishing tools were deliberately placed in the building after the blaze incident, prompting the need for further investigation. The tools for extinguishing fire were found in a functional state on Sunday, the very next day of the blaze, during the initial visit of a high-level police team formed by the Karachi police chief to probe the incident. However, the investigation team overlooked them.

Videos obtained by The News show many fire extinguishing tools on the second, third and fourth floors of the building. Surprisingly, when everything turned into ashes, the fire extinguishers are not damaged. There is no stain on their red colour and the stickers are also unscathed.

Considering the scene of destruction,questions arise about how everything turned into ashes, yet the tools for extinguishing the fire remained undamaged. The fire brigade department also seemed shocked over the discovery of fire extinguishers in the building a day after of the incident occurred.

“There were no fire extinguishers or fire equipment there. It seems that these were placed later. The amusing part is that the person who kept them did not even think that by placing only two fire extinguishers, they could demonstrate that a fire on all six floors could be controlled,” said KMC Chief Fire Officer Ishtiaq Ahmed while talking to The News.

“The extinguishers that are being shown are in perfect condition. Neither has their colour been damaged, nor have they turned black due to burning, and their pipes are also undamaged. Apparently, they were placed later,” he said.

He added that along with fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and heat systems had also been placed inside the mall that could sense heat and initiate water spray.

The chief fire officer stated that during the rescue operation, the fire brigade found no emergency exits, and most importantly, there was no open air space. “Deaths occurred due to suffocation, and if there had been an open air space, perhaps not a single life would have been lost. With ventilation and an open air space, people could have had the opportunity to escape to the rooftop for their safety.”

Ahmed also stressed the need for raising awareness about fire safety. He explained that usually, in case of fires, people tend to look for safe places to escape the flames, such as locking themselves in a room. “However, they need to understand that besides flames, the most significant danger is smoke. Smoke can travel throughout the entire building within seconds or minutes,” he said, adding that when people are surrounded by smoke, they could not indefinitely hold their breath. “As soon as a person takes two to three breaths, carbon monoxide in the smoke enters their lungs, causing them to lose consciousness. After that, deaths occur.”

About the cause of the blaze, the chief fire officer said the fire broke out at either the third or fourth floor, as the most significant damage had occurred on these floors. The second floor suffered partial damage, he added.

The fourth floor housed offices of different companies, including software houses, call centers, and a food court, where many people worked in the night shift. Consequently, most deaths occurred on the fourth floor.

According to Ahmed, no evidence had been found that could help ascertain the cause of the fire. He said in such cases, eyewitnesses often provided important information.

Meanwhile, District East police chief SSP Irfan Bahadur said the investigators were looking for evidence, including CCTV footage. He remarked as the blaze was severe, much evidence would have been destroyed, but nevertheless, efforts were being made to collect as much evidence as possible.

Regarding the presence of fire extinguishers, he said they might have been pre-placed, but wondered why they were untouched. He added that the investigations would delve into whether fire extinguishers were intentionally added later, by whom, and for what purpose.

Responding to concerns about the lack of open-air space, SSP Bahadur explained that this observation was made by himself and his seniors during their initial visit. He added that a technical evacuation team had been formed to scrutinise all relevant facts.

To a query about the first information report (FIR), SSP Bahadur clarified that the registration of an FIR was a standard procedure and not necessarily the final account of incident. He mentioned that as the investigation would progress and more details were revealed, the FIR may evolve accordingly.

Investigation officer’s visit

East Zone SSP Investigation Saud Magsi, who is a member of the fact-finding committee, visited the plaza on Monday and inspected the building.

He told the media that this was his second visit to the site. He added that a committee headed by the East DIG was investigating the incident. “Many things have been observed here, which we will include in the report and it is premature to say anything right now,” he said.

He maintained that all the facts would be disclosed and those responsible would face legal action. Regarding the FIR, he said delaying its registration would have weakened the case in court. “What has been found in the initial investigation is mentioned in the FIR.”

Magsi said the committee would also seek assistance from electric engineers, explosive experts, fire experts and other professionals. He added that the market would remain sealed until those experts arrived and collected evidence.

Technical committee

Following directives from the chief minister, the Karachi commissioner has formed a technical committee headed by East Deputy Commissioner Altaf Sheikh to thoroughly investigate the incident and determine the cause of the blaze.

The committee’s secretary is Sindh Building Control Authority additional director general/secretary technical committee of dangerous building. Its members include the East SSP, SBCA East director, controller of Civil Defence Karachi, KMC chief fire officer, Faisal Cantonment Board additional CEO, and any other member co-opted with the approval of the chairman.

The committee has been tasked with finding out the causes and factors leading to the fire incidents, and checking the availability of firefighting equipment, fire alarm system, fire suppression system and emergency exit gates in the shopping mall. The committee will also check the response time from the rescue departments. The body will fix the responsibility on negligent officers and departments, and private persons and suggest measures to prevent such incidents in the future. It will submit its report within seven days.