Karachi’s poor fire safety infrastructure exposed again as four perish in another mall blaze

Faraz Khan
Thursday, Dec 07, 2023

karachi: Four people were killed in a fire that erupted in a commercial-cum-residential building, named Arshi Mall, on Shahrah-e-Pakistan near Ayesha Manzil in District Central’s Federal B Area on Wednesday evening.

This is the second major fire to have occurred in the city in less than a fortnight, as on November 25 a similar incident in the RJ Mall on Rashid Minhas Road had killed 11 people and injured five others.

Video clips of the Arshi Mall fire airing on news channels and circulating on social media show flames rising very high from the building, with thick black smoke that can be seen from miles away.

Initial reports suggest the fire started in an upholstery foam shop on the ground floor, then quickly spread to engulf the entire building. Fire engines from across the city participated in the firefighting operation and to evacuate people from shops and flats.

The Pakistan Navy’s fire engines also participated in firefighting operation. Police and Rangers, along with the traffic police, remained present at the scene to participate in the rescue operation.

The Ayesha Manzil furniture market has over 250 shops on the ground floor, while furniture, mattresses and petroleum products are kept on the mezzanine floor. There are also 450 residential flats on the upper four floors.

Officials said that around 300 people were rescued. There are concerns that the building has been weakened due to the fire and can collapse any time. Eyewitnesses said the fire broke out during welding work on the ground floor, then the entire building was quickly engulfed in flames.

District Central SSP Faisal Abdullah Chachar said the fire started in a mattress shop and spread quickly to the nearby shops. The rapidly spreading fire also reached the upper floors of the residential building.

Initially, residents of the affected building helped people evacuate through balconies. Fire brigade officials said that 12 fire engines, two snorkels, and water bowsers were used to douse the fire.

Authorities confirmed that the bodies of the three people who lost their lives in the fire have been taken to the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital. Two of the victims have been identified as Ghulam Raza, 45, son of Rajab Ali, and Noman Baig, 35, son of Bashir Baig, while the third victim was 20-year-old Osama, son of Abdur Rahman, who died from his burns at the Civil Hospital.

Talking to The News, Karachi Police Surgeon Dr Summaiya Syed confirmed the three deaths, and said that one person was injured. “Victims died due to suffocation, leading to asphyxia. DNA samples have been taken for identifying the third victim, whose identification and determination is not possible because he suffered 100 per cent burn injuries.”

The injured person, who has been identified as a 50-year-old man named Saleem, is said to have suffered four per cent burn injuries.

An affected shopkeeper said that a cylinder had leaked in his shop, causing a fire and resulting in an explosion. He said the fire spread to the furniture shops where foam materials fuelled the flames. The fire extended to the upper floors of the building, causing smoke to fill the surroundings, he added.

An eyewitness said the building houses over 250 shops and approximately 450 residential flats. He said the fire started in the first lane of the market, where a clothing shop is located.

The shopkeeper of the affected shop suffered injuries while trying to escape, he added. The fire also damaged about a dozen motorbikes parked on the road.

Chief Fire Officer Ishtiaq Ahmed told The News that the fire had been brought under control, and now the cooling process and a search are under way.

As for the condition of the building, no information can be provided at the moment because the front side of the building has been affected, said Ahmed, adding that firefighters have done timely and effective work to prevent extensive damage to the building. He said officials from the relevant departments would visit the site on Thursday (today). As for the actual reason behind the fire, he said that nothing can be said with certainty because different people have given different accounts.

Expressing deep sorrow over the loss of lives, Sindh caretaker chief minister Justice (retd) Maqbool Baqar ordered an inquiry into the incident. He also announced forming a committee headed by the city commissioner to investigate the causes of the fire and fix responsibility.

Baqar directed the inquiry committee to submit a report within three days. The committee is expected to provide its recommendations, along with a comprehensive report on all aspects. Karachi Mayor Barrister Murtaza Wahab reached the site to inspect the firefighting operation, adds our correspondent Oonib Azam.

Over a dozen Karachi Water & Sewerage Corporation (KWSC) water tankers provided water to the fire engines. Fire brigade officials said that due to the presence of foams in the building, the fire kept getting reignited over and over again after it was extinguished.

Wahab was briefed by rescue workers, firefighters and others at the scene. He said the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation staff was providing services with great diligence. He also said that a comprehensive investigation would be conducted into the incident. The mayor said buildings without fire safety measures cannot be allowed in the city.

He stressed that action would be taken against the buildings that were approved without a safety system. Inspections of buildings have begun at four different locations in the city, he added.

The K-Electric spokesperson said that power supply to the Arshi Mall and its surrounding areas was immediately suspended in line with the safety protocols. “KE staff remained present on site to extend the maximum support to the rescue teams.”

Rescue 1122 Sindh Director Abid Shaikh said that the maximum number of people were evacuated from the building. “The fire is of category three that engulfed the entire building.”

While the fire was being doused, many of the shopkeepers were busy gathering their shops’ essential commodities in an empty plot opposite the building.

A resident of the building said she was still inside when the fire erupted, but her watchman responded quickly and evacuated people from the flat. “I was inside my flat [...] and I am with my special child who is four years old. People are cooperating, but I just hope our flat is saved. I pray for everyone here.”

Interim information minister Ahmed Shah also inspected the site. All the relevant departments of the government are assisting in extinguishing the fire, he added.

“Modern machinery and brave firefighters are actively engaged in extinguishing the fire,” he said, adding that the police, Rangers, municipal staff and other officers are all fulfilling their duties.” Shah said the caretaker CM has issued directives for compensating the affected residents.