–CM Buzdar says government will review traders’ losses and take steps to rectify the situation
LAHORE: Multiple floors of Hafeez Centre in Lahore were engulfed in flames after a short circuit caused a massive fire to break out in the large plaza on Sunday morning.
According to police officials, the fire department was called into around 6 am after a fire started on the second floor of the plaza, where mobile and laptop stores were located. It soon spread up to the fourth floor.
A number of officials reached the site, including Lahore Commissioner Zulfiqar Ghuman, Deputy Commissioner (DC) Mudassir Riaz and Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Umar Sheikh.
“Workers from Rescue 1122 and fire department are present at the site and are working on putting out the fire. Snorkels are also present and all resources will be utilised,” the CCPO said, adding that so far 25 people had been pulled out of the blaze.
When Rescue 1122 teams arrived at the scene, they first contacted LESCO to cut off the main power supply and the power was cut off in 15 to 20 minutes, but within that delay, several shops were affected.
12 fire brigades and 60 rescue officials are carrying out relief activities in the area. Reports from the ground suggested that eight fire brigades ran out of water during the firefighting operation.
So far, no causalities have been reported.
30-40 shops were caught in the fire, and eyewitnesses reported seeing shop owners trying to save the expensive electronics by carrying them out. Other shop owners wept as the electronic items were reduced to ash in front of them.
A large number of citizens and shopkeepers had gathered outside the plaza right after the incident while the traffic police had cordoned off Gulberg’s Main Boulevard and a contingent of police was trying to keep the citizens away from the plaza.
As the fire intensified, the compressors exploded and caused blasts in Hafeez Center. The ineffective fire hydrant system installed in Pace shopping plaza adjacent to the centre also did not help. Sources said that the fire hydrant system of Pace could not work positively due to lack of repair and maintenance.
Regarding the incident, sources in the Punjab Civil Defense (PCD) Department informed this scribe that due to negligence, most government offices, commercial and high-rise buildings across the province lack proper firefighting equipment, which poses a grave threat to human life and important records.
Reportedly, PCD organised training sessions for various government departments and high-rise buildings, but these remained ineffective as a majority of staffers at these offices are still unaware of what is to be done in case of any incident. Moreover, in most of the government departments, the fire extinguishers are expired and fire alarms have not been installed either.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar took notice of the incident and directed that authorities use all resources to put out the fire.
“The cause of the fire at Hafeez Center will be ascertained. All the facts of the fire incident will be made public. The loss of traders is heartbreaking and I have instructed to estimate damages. We will review the losses of the traders and take steps to rectify the situation,” he said.
“Priority should be given to rescuing people stuck inside [the building],” he said and directed “immediate investigation” into the incident.
Meanwhile, Punjab Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Inam Ghani issued instructions to the police for rescue work to control the fire. He directed DIG Operations Lahore Ashfaq Khan and Divisional SP to remain on the spot and said that police teams should join hands with Rescue 1122 to participate in the firefighting operation.
“All possible help should be provided to the teams and citizens, fire should be brought under control as soon as possible and safety of lives and property of citizens should be ensured. Police teams should be present on the spot till the rescue operation is completed,” Ghani said.
Furthermore, Lahore Commissioner Zulfiqar Ghuman has formed a 14-member inquiry committee headed by the deputy commissioner (DC) on the Hafeez Centre incident. The convener of the committee will be the Lahore DC and committee will submit a preliminary report in 24 hours while a detailed report will be submitted to the Lahore commissioner in seven days.