KARACHI: “It was around 3.15am when I saw from my window sparks fly up from the second floor’s lift area in the building across ours,” said Bilal Ali, a resident of Chapal Ocean Centre in Clifton Block 4 from where the first phone calls for help were made after fire broke out in Clifton Diamond, a multi-storey office plaza, in the early hours of Sunday.
“Thankfully everyone was awake at the time for sehri. Since the fire started in the lifts, it made that means of escape ineffective almost immediately. We could see shadows of people inside the building. On our side, after alerting the emergency services, we evacuated our own building. But the people in Clifton Diamond seemed trapped,” he said.
People from the nearby buildings on one side of Bagh Ibn-i-Qasim came out on the streets. Ambulances and the police, they said, were the first ones to arrive. “Until the fire tenders arrived, which was after around half an hour, everyone stood helplessly on the ground watching the building burn.
“It turned out that the shadows we had seen of people running around inside were of eight security guards on night duty there. One broke a few windows to get out. In his panic he tried jumping out but we yelled out to him to calm down, urging him to stay until the fire tenders arrived,” said the resident while taking out his phone to share a video of the guard wanting to jump out from the fourth floor of the burning building.
“When the fire tenders arrived, they started extinguishing the fire using a single hose. It was obvious that there was a need for more than one hose to control the raging flames that had by then spread to the other side of Clifton Diamond, but they apparently had no second hose. Even their snorkel could not reach the top floors and the trapped security guards there were rescued with difficulty with the help of ropes,” said Bilal Ali.
One of the security guards died after inhaling too much smoke. The fire, too, could be extinguished after three hours. Then it started again at around 3pm in the afternoon. “The fire brigade had to be called again because they had all left. Now they are at it again. This time there is a fire in one of the back offices in the upper side. They say it has too many files and papers there, which are adding fuel to the fire,” said a police constable watching the happenings from the ground.
“The firefighters should not have left, if you ask me. Because even another little spark anywhere in a burnt building’s wiring can start a fire again, which is what happened. After too much pressure building up inside, the glass at the back just burst and the air provided oxygen for the fire,” said the policeman.
“This building may be beautiful to look at but it has no safety exits or any other emergency measures. Even its water tanks were empty, there being a scarcity of water in this area as it is. So I won’t just accuse the fire department of inefficiency. People who construct such high-rises and those who pass their building designs should also be held responsible here,” he said.
“My boys were sleeping outside when they were woken by the smoke and commotion in the lanes,” said Zubair Niazi, owner of the Ghazi Inn Hotel, a small restaurant on the ground floor of Chapal Ocean Centre. “They called me to inform me about the situation and I rushed here after calling the fire department. But they had been informed already by that time. Still, I realise that most people here don’t know what to do in case of such emergencies. They don’t even have the emergency numbers on them. These numbers should be saved in all of our phones. It is pertinent to spread awareness about this,” he said.