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October 20, 2020

Fury of fire

Editorial

 
October 20, 2020

It is always difficult to imagine quite what havoc a sudden fire can cause even to a large building or a plaza, such as Hafeez Centre, which stands in the centre of Lahore, and mainly sells electronic items, including laptops, mobile phones, desktop computers, and accessories. In the early hours of Sunday, a fire – said to have broken out on the second floor of the plaza – destroyed over 800 shops in the building engulfing all the floors one by one. Firefighting teams did move in and were able to save 25 persons trapped in the building, but could not stop the fire for over 15 hours. The nature of the items stocked in the building, including many electronics may have helped it blaze on as it spread from floor to floor. Only the ground floor and the basement were partly rescued.

According to the association of traders, a total loss of around Rs2.5 billion to Rs3 billion has been caused. Their estimates suggest various shops suffered losses of Rs20 million while smaller outlets suffered losses worth Rs1.5 million to Rs3 million. But of course, for the shopkeepers who experienced the damage, the amount is insignificant. There was anger against Punjab government ministers, including Health Minister Dr. Yasmin Rashid who reached the scene – with traders demanding compensation of some kind for their losses. It is difficult to say how the government can give compensation for the fire which was started by a short-circuit. But what it can do is immediately ensure rules regarding buildings and their safety are complied with. These are ignored completely in most cases. Even though Lahore has a good firefighting mechanism, with fire tenders from the 1122 Rescue Service, Rangers, Navy and others moving in fairly quickly, they could not control the fire for hours as it raged on watched by large crowds atop the rooftops of adjoining buildings.

The problem is that our buildings are designed without fire exits, without fire alarms and other mechanisms, which can alert people quickly to smoke or other signs of danger. In this case, the thick smoke being emitted from the building provided the first alert. It came too late. By then a great deal of damage had already been done and more was caused by the time expert teams arrived to first rescue people who could so easily have lost their lives, and then to save what they could of the structure itself. It is understood that very few of the goods stored in the shops have been left safe. The traders of course are devastated. This is natural, but they should get together with others in their community and find ways to ensure that safety mechanisms which exist elsewhere are installed and such a disaster is avoided in the future.