LAHORE: At least 500 shops out of more than 1,000 shops and godowns housing laptops, mobiles phones, accessories worth millions of rupees were gutted in a huge fire erupted at Hafeez Centre on Sunday morning.
Emergency teams rescued at least 25 persons in their operation. No loss of life was reported. The fire erupted early in the morning at some unknown time. Firefighting started at 6:15am and continued for over 14 hours.
At least 25 fire tenders of Rescue 1122, Pakistan Navy, Rangers, City District Government and Lahore police participated in the rescue operation. The five storey building houses over one 1,000 shops of mobile phones, computers, laptops, UPSs and other electronic accessories. It is being estimated that at least 40 per cent of the shops situated largely on second, third and fourth floor were completely damaged. Additionally, 20 per cent of shops are said to be partially damaged.
The fire reportedly started at the second floor and moved upwards. Its course also was observed spreading towards the nearby plaza. However, it was contained with the intervention of firefighters. At the time of filing of this report, the fire was reported to be moving towards the first floor also.
At least 25 people were trapped inside the building. All of them were safely evacuated. Majority of the trapped victims were the labourers visiting the plaza for the purpose of dropping or picking up the goods. They took shelter on the rooftop and were rescued mainly using fire snorkels.
The Punjab Emergency Service (Rescue 1122) said that they received the fire call at 6.11am. When the rescuers reached the spot, it was a completely developed fire. The responding rescue teams called for the backup. A total of 25 fire vehicles, three special vehicles and over 70 rescuers participated in the operation.
A Rescue 1122 spokesperson, Farooq Ahmad, said that the fire turned into huge fire because the plaza was filled with highly inflammable material. Besides, the building did not have the firefighting system installed in it. Ahmad also said that no one knew at what actual time the fire started. A rescuer said that it was early in the morning and then on Sunday, the holiday. Whoever noticed it must have come to know about the fire after it had produced a heavy thick smoke visible from a large distance. The fire was so huge that the clouds of smoke were being seen from a long distance. As the news of fire was flashed, a large number of shopkeepers rushed to the spot. They literally were crying and making a lot of hue and cry. A few of them also started Azans for seeking mercy while seeing the magnitude of the fire. The building and its surroundings were literally showing apocalyptic scenarios.
The people that were trapped had rushed towards rooftop of the building. All the building even the rooftop was filled with thick smoke. The high flames were also rising up to the rooftop. From there they had been screaming for help while crying. The rescuers using fire snorkles were busy in evacuating them. It was a horrible scene. After a few intervals, explosions in the building were also heard reportedly due to compressors of air-conditioners, UPS batteries and other such accessories.
A heavy contingent of police also reached the spot to maintain law and order situation.
Model Town SP Dost Muhammad Khosa reached in the morning. Later on, CCPO Umer Shoib Sheikh and DIG Operations Muhammad Ashfaq Khan also visited the scene. Police on the occasion also caught two suspected thieves. Rescue 1122 DG Dr Rizwan Naseer also visited the crime scene to review the rescue operation arrangements. Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin along with senior bureaucrats of Punjab reached there. However, she was received in a very hostile manner by the shopkeepers present there. Seeing her, they also raised anti-government slogans.
A rescue official said that the rescuers in their daylong operation stopped fire from spreading to first floor, second floor, basement and the backside of the plaza. He said that the cooling process would continue for an indefinite period keeping in view the situation. He said that the rescuers had controlled active fire. However, it erupted after intervals due to heat pockets that was controlled by the rescuers again and again.
Meanwhile, the government of Punjab formed a fact-finding committee on the fire incident. It comprises at least 14 members and the Lahore deputy commissioner Lahore is its convener.
The Model Town assistant commissioner, Model Town SP, chief engineer, buildings, Central Zone, district emergency officer Lahore also members of the committee which has been assigned to dig out the underlying causes of the fire incident at the plaza, assess the loss to the moveable and immovable property, examine infrastructural stability of the building and assess the efficacy of emergency response by the department concerned.
Inspector General of Police Punjab Inam Ghani directed the senior officers of Lahore police to go to the spot on their own to provide full support to the fire rescue and relief operation at Hafeez Centre, Gulberg and provide all possible help and guidance to the rescue teams engaged in the relief work. Stay on the scene until the operation is complete, the IG directed the officers.
The IG himself is also reviewing the latest situation from time to time. Moreover, the traders of Hafeez Centre estimated almost Rs 2.5 billion to Rs3 billion loss following the fire incident of Sunday which damaged almost 250 to 300 shops adversely. President of Ajnuman-e-Tajiran Hafeez Center Malik Kaleem talking to media said that almost 100 shops suffered around Rs 20 to Rs25 million inventory loss each while 150 to 200 suffered Rs 1.5 to Rs 3 million loss each. “There are big and small shopkeepers on each floor where the fire incident occurred. Out of which, almost 100 shopkeepers had large businesses and 150 to 200 had small business with small shops”, he said, adding that the loss was accordingly. Further, details of the loss will come when each shopkeeper will calculate and submit claims.
Malik Kaleem alleged that rescue team reached the site late. However, it worked tirelessly to control the fire. But then the water finished, he added. Meanwhile, Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) President Mian Tariq Misbah visited the Hafeez Centre and expressed sorrow over the huge financial loss caused by the fire and consoled the trades there.
The LCCI office-bearers demanded the government compensate the traders. They said that they stood by the traders of Hafeez Centre and would raise their voice at every forum and would strongly demand the government compensate their losses. He said that Hafeez Center is an important and big commercial center of Lahore in which small and big traders do businesses, it is impossible to recover from the damage caused by this fire. They also urged the government to formulate a strategy to determine the cause of the fire as soon as possible.