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Fire raged from morning till late night

KARACHI, Feb 18: An intense fire that broke out in the morning on the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation Building’s 11th floor and gutted its top four floors was raging till the filing of this report late in the night.

“It will take another few hours for our teams to completely extinguish the fire,” Chief Fire Officer Ehteshamuddin told Dawn.

The fire broke out on the 11th floor at about 9:15am, gutted it completely and then engulfed the 12th, 14th and 15th floors before affecting the rooftop. Efforts by some two dozen fire-tenders of the city’s ill-equipped fire brigade did, however, succeed in stopping it from spreading it downwards.

The building, it may be mentioned, does not have 13th floor, because of superstitions attached to the number, and the floor above the 12th is numbered 14th.

The fire destroyed the records of the National Engineering Services Pakistan (Nespak), some historical records and documents of the Sindh Golf Association (SGA) and important documents of the PNSC and some private offices.

Pakistan Navy’s two helicopters saved the lives of six people who had been trapped in the building.

A spokesman for the Inter-Services Public Relations (Navy), Karachi, said that the six people had been trapped on the affected floors and were unable to come down. They later took shelter on the roof.

The spokesman said the PNSC authorities sought Pakistan Navy’s help at about 12:30pm and two helicopters were immediately sent for rescue work.

The ISPR spokesman said that the rescue attempt was perilous as pilots braved dense smoke and kept flying despite the presence of a large number of birds flying in the area. “Endangering their own lives, the aviators of Pakistan Navy succeeded in rescuing the six people.”

The fire-fighters struggled to bring the fire under control because they lacked proper equipment to put out fires in multi-storeyed buildings. About 24 fire-tenders, eight belonging to the KPT and the rest from various parts of the city, were working constantly to put out the flames.

The two KPT-operated snorkels did not have enough pressure to propel water even up to the 8th floor, while the city government’s snorkel fared a little better, managing to spray water a little above the 9th floor.

The fire started from the western side of 11th floor and the fire-fighters after about two hours’ work thought they had brought it under control and started packing up when flames flared up again and started engulfing other areas.

Talking to reporters, Karachi CCPO Azhar Farooqi said the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit. But, fire brigades officials said the matter needed further probe.

They said that while the building had emergency exits but all of them were too narrow to be of any help to the people trapped inside.

“This is one of a few new buildings in the city which have emergency exits and some equipment to cope with such situations, but the exits are so narrow that no more than two people can use them in emergencies,” said a senior fire-fighter.

He said the situation could have been worse if the fire had broken out on a working day.

Officials said the 14th floor, which housed the offices of a minister, secretary and chairman and other senior officials of the PNSC, had been completely gutted.

“I have just come out of the 11th and 12th floors and saw that their structures are crumbling,” said a fire-fighter.

Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Babar Khan Ghauri, who was supervising the rescue operation, said the PNSC offices had been shifted temporarily to the nearby office of the director-general (ports & shipping).The minister told reporters that a three-member team had been formed to determine the causes of the fire.

Asad I.A. Khan, vice-president of Nespak, said: “I am standing here helpless, seeing everything getting burnt,” he said.

Mr Khan said the authorities concerned should wake up to the situation and take steps to meet such emergencies in future. The city needed dozens of snorkels in areas where skyscrapers were being built and more were being planned, he said.

He said precious records of Nespak had been destroyed. According to him, the gutted record contained files pertaining to projects in Bangladesh, Thailand and Oman, as well as the Prime Minister’s House.

The chief fire officer said some four firemen had fainted because of smoke and heat and had to be taken to the Civil Hospital Karachi.

(By Hasan Mansoor, Dawn-1, 19/02/2007)

Firefighters battle more than just the flames

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