SBCA clears four floors of fire-ravaged Arshi Mall

December 08, 2023

The Arshi Mall fire death toll rose to five after another man’s body was found on the site of the inferno on Thursday, while the fire was completely extinguished and the cooling process was also completed.

FIR No. 406/23 was registered on the state’s behalf at the Jauharabad police station under sections 322, 436, 435, 427, 34 and 337A(i). The District Central police spokesperson said the investigation team would determine the fire’s cause and also fix responsibility.

View of massive fire left a multi-storey building after fire eruption incident at Furniture Market in a residential building, located near Ayesha Manzil in Karachi December 7, 2023. — PPI

Vowing to ensure swift but detailed inspections of buildings across Karachi, Sindh caretaker chief minister Justice (retd) Maqbool Baqar warned that action would be taken on the inquiry report of the Arshi Mall fire.

The Sindh Building Control Authority’s (SBCA) technical team informed the deputy commissioner about the findings after their examination of the building. The report cleared first to fourth floors. The DC then permitted the occupants to return to their flats.

A four-member SBCA committee headed by Additional Director General Benish Shabbir had inspected the mall building. “The technical committee has conducted an inspection, and based on our experience, we can confirm that the structure is not significantly damaged,” said Shabbir.

“However, the final report with detailed findings and recommendations will be issued soon. The upper floors are also in good condition, with minimal damage. Majority of the damage is on the ground floor, but it is repairable.”

On Wednesday night bodies of Ghulam Raza, 35, son of Rajab Ali, Noman Baig, 38, son of Amin Baig, and an unidentified victim aged around 30 years had been found, while Osama, 20, son of Abdur Rahman, had died during treatment.

On Thursday the death toll reached five after the body of Riaz Ahmed, 30, son of Ramzan, was found during a search operation. The deceased was taken to the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital.

Riaz Ahmed, an Orangi Town resident, had died while trying to escape the building. The incident has caused turmoil in his family. He was married and had 10 siblings.

“I have small children,” said his widow. “What will happen to us now? Who will take care of us? Who will send my children to school? The government only makes announcements and then disappears. No one takes responsibility.”

She said that it is the public who has to bear the consequences. She requested the government to take concrete measures and do something so that such incidents do not occur again. “Wives should be spared from becoming widows, and children should be spared from becoming orphans.”

The victim Noman Baig was a father of four. He and his brother Asim Baig were at the market on the ground floor when the fire broke out. “I escaped and survived, but my brother lost his life,” said Asim.

The victim Ghulam Raza was a resident of Manghopir. His funeral prayers were offered, following which he was laid to rest at a local graveyard.

The fire not only took away the shopkeepers’ businesses but it also feels as if their hope to live was snatched from them. They said that if the government does not compensate them, they may never be able to stand on their feet again.

“When the fire broke out, we thought it was better to escape to save our lives. Little did we know that while we might save our lives, we won’t be able to save our property,” said shopkeeper Shamroz.

“Now that our businesses, shops and warehouses have all been burnt to ashes, what else is left for us to do? How can we provide for our families in this era of inflation?” he lamented.

“In this way, my family and I will continue to suffer from poverty and difficulties every day. It would have been better if I had died in the fire.”

Besides the shopkeepers, the residents are also facing many difficulties. The fire not only destroyed businesses but also homes. The district administration offered food and shelter to all the affected people, but the residents refused to go to the shelters.

“Since last night we’ve been homeless. Some people went to stay with their relatives, but others are forced to spend the night on the streets. We don’t have enough money to rent or buy a new flat. Our entire savings are in our flats,” said resident Ali.

“If that is taken away from us as well, where will we go with our wife, children and elderly parents? The government should renovate our flats and allow us to return to our homes as soon as possible.”

Baqar visited the building to meet the affected residents and shopkeepers. The DC informed him that 74 flats and 130 shops were severely affected, while five people were killed and three others were injured.

The interim CM assured that strict action would be taken against those responsible. He said that all the affected people would be provided with the necessary facilities.

“The affected residents will be shifted to nearby shelters, and arrangements will be made to facilitate them,” he added. He stressed the need for fire safety measures and fire exits in buildings.

Baqar said that appropriate action would be taken based on the results of the inquiry. He said that permission to return home will be granted after reviewing the foundation of the building.

He also said that arrangements for food and water are being made for the affected people. He assured them that efforts are under way to bring about improvements. He stressed the importance of implementing safety measures in buildings and providing all necessary facilities for the affected people.

District Central SSP Faisal Abdullah Chachar told the media that the fire’s cause remains unascertained. He said that it could be due to an electrical short circuit.

He also said that extensive damage has occurred, while the assessment is pending, adding that confirmation of the fire starting after a cylinder explosion remains unverified.

The officer said evidence would be gathered once the rescue operation concludes, and in the light of the evidence, the nature of the fire would be determined. A fact-finding committee will be established and legal action will be taken based on the committee’s findings, he added.

Chief Fire Officer Ishtiaq Ahmed told the media that the fire was reported quite late. He said the fire brigade department was informed about the incident after a delay.

“The fire brigade was called when the fire reached the fourth floor. There is a lack of awareness among people and they don’t even know the fire brigade’s number.”

Ahmed said that the first five to 10 minutes are crucial in fire incidents. There was neither any firefighting equipment in the building nor was there an evacuation route, he added. “We received information of the incident after a delay of 20 to 25 minutes.”

He pointed out that all the items in the building were highly flammable. “We got stuck in traffic for five to seven minutes. Our vehicles were dispatched on time. No inspection was conducted here. The SBCA had given all approvals and it was within their jurisdiction.”

He said that there are illegally constructed buildings in the city and now the city mayor has given the officials authority, so they have started their work.

“We are initially targeting three locations for inspections. Building inspections take three to four hours. We have three different teams working. Inspecting the entire city may take considerable time. This year there have been 1,670 incidents of small- to large-scale fires.”

The officer said that there are 28 functioning fire stations in the city, while a city with millions of residents should ideally have one station for every 100,000 people.