A colossal fire erupted inside the plaza of Lahore, Pakistan's Gulberg boulevard on Sunday because of an electrical short circuit, according to a live report from Geo News.
Gigantic fire erupts in Lahore, Pakistan
The fire broke out in Hafeez Centre — Lahore's main multi-story market — which houses laptops, computer businesses, and mobile phones. More than 400 shops, repair facilities, and "godowns" (warehouses or storage areas) were destroyed — causing heavy losses to local traders, reports Dawn.com.
This is the fifth major fire reported in the local area of Lahore in the last two years. The Sunday fire erupted in the morning and kept rising until that evening — sending thick billowing clouds of smoke everywhere in the area, causing breathing problems throughout the city.
Blasts rang into the polluted air as split AC compressors fueled widespread panic in the market district, with people running out of their houses and apartments in fear of an armed attack on the city.
Shopkeepers try to save merchandise from blazing fire
Conflicting reports at first confused local consensus as to the cause of the fire, along with when it began. Some witnesses said it started late Saturday night while others argued it erupted around 5:00 AM local time.
Most shopkeepers were in their homes when the fire erupted, but rushed to the scene after phone calls alerted them to the catastrophe, Dawn.com reports.
Most of them were not able to save merchandise like computers, laptops, cell phones, CCTV cameras, LCDs, and other accessories — suffering major financial losses.
Shopkeepers claim rescue efforts caused water damage to electronics
Leaders of trade announced a toll of more than 400 "godowns," shops, small shops, and offices were burnt during the 11-hour inferno — which initially erupted on the second floor of the building.
The scene was sad but endemic of similar events elsewhere in the world: owners watched helplessly as their shops burned until nothing was left but ashes and ruin. Some desperate shopkeepers risked their lives to dive into the burning building for a shot at rescuing merchandise. Some succeeded, but others returned empty-handed.
Notably, some traders claimed rescuers applied water on floors which were not on fire — causing water damage to electrical appliances that may have otherwise survived the ordeal without damage.
"I called Rescue 1122 at 6:09 AM on seeing dense smoke emitting from a shop at the second floor," said Raju, who managed a mobile phone counter within Hafeez Centre. He also claimed he alerted security guards of the plaza, and tried to help quell the flames with tap water.
Rescuers may have arrived at the fire too late
Raju also claims he called Rescue 1122 as the fire was spreading, but rescuers took an hour to arrive at the scene, reports Dawn.com. According to Raju, only one special vehicle from Rescue 1122 made it to the scene by 7:15 AM — which was too late because the fire had already swallowed more than four shops at the time.
Hafeez Centre union leaders also accused Rescue 1122 of starting operations too late, in addition to bringing insufficient resources to confront the inferno.
Sheikh Fayyaz — president of the Hafeez Centre union — said: "Fire spread from the second floor to the upper stories and engulfed the entire three top floors despite the presence of dozens of special vehicles of the emergency service and several firefighters."
Jafar Shah, the union's information secretary, noted how the plaza housed roughly 815 big shops, 700 counters, and godowns. He also noted the fire-fighting vehicles from other city district governments, Bahria Town, and the Pakistan Navy also attended the scene to help rescue operations.
Rescue officials claim response to giant fire was timely
Twenty-five people were trapped in the burning building, but were later rescued — according to Lahore City Police Officer Umar Sheikh.
Yasmin Rashid — Punjab Health Minister — confronted an embarrassing situation upon her arrival, where she faced criticism from traders of the Hafeez Centre. "You are not required here. Go back and do your original [health] duty," shouted one trader, according to Dawn.com.
Rescue 1122 DG Rizwan said his rescue teams responded to the emergency in plenty of time. Contesting the traders' accusations, he blamed them for failing to invest in emergency firefighting equipment capable of handling a major fire in a multi-story building.
Speaking with the media, he claims smoke detecting alarms along with water hydrants installed in the building were not functional. Additionally, he claims the fire totally damaged the third, fourth, and fifth floors — which contained too many shops housing flammable CCTV cameras, laptops, paint materials, and additional electronics accessories.
Mobile phone shops lost weeks before iPhone 12 release
Rizwan noted that the Rescue 1122 squad successfully contained the fire on other floors, including neglecting the basement.
Rescue 1122 made a press release at 7:00 PM local time, which claimed the "active fire" was put out — but also noted the fight to quell additional smaller blazes was still going strong. No one was hurt in the colossal fire — which lasted more than 11 hours, said the press release, reports Dawn.com.
With Apple's recent unveiling of the forthcoming iPhone 12 model, it must be beyond disheartening to lose shops to an electrical fire weeks before massive sales are expected. But considering the toll we've seen wrought during the California wildfires, the greatest comfort we can offer is to note how these tragic shop owners are not the only ones losing their livelihoods to giant fires.