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Why shopping markets, malls are fire death traps in Karachi

List and map of shops where fires have erupted

SAMAA | and - Posted: Nov 17, 2020 | Last Updated: 5 months ago
SAMAA | and
Posted: Nov 17, 2020 | Last Updated: 5 months ago
Why shopping markets, malls are fire death traps in Karachi

There have been about 52 fires in shopping malls and supermarkets in Karachi in the last four years, with the latest taking place in DHA Phase I off Korangi Road Tuesday morning at Paradise store.

Here is a map of the fires and a timeline. Some supermarkets have had more than one fire over the years. (See a list of them at the end of this story)

Electrical wiring causing fires
Electrical engineer Mansoor Raza, who is visiting faculty at NEDUET, says that the major cause of electrical fires in commercial centers is overloaded circuits.

“The operational load far exceeds the design load of an establishment,” he wrote in a note for SAMAA Digital. “The use of multiple air conditioners, instead of alternative usage, results in the heating up of wires and gradual erosion of insulation. Once they are weakened, any surge in the load or over-usage results in short circuiting and accompanying fire.”

Petty contractors compromise on quality and lay low quality cheaper wires. Their workmanship is poor. They don’t make the nodes, joints and connections according to standard. “It is a craft which is sadly done by unlicensed wiremen with limited understanding of overall layout and design,” he added. “The minimalist approach is often preferred over quality of material.”

Interestingly, Raza also pointed out that store timings are also a part of the problem. “Big malls become fully operation not before noon,” he said. They use more and more power to bring the temperature down. “This is lethal in summers as wires heat up and there is no opportunity for them to cool down.”

The people who run these shops and stores save money on routine inspections of wiring circuits. Old wires with overloading and faulty wiring become a hazard.

“The architecture of most of the malls does not align with changing weather imperatives,” Raza explained. “Wind circulation is nonexistent and heat is trapped in these glass houses, making them a virtual oven and putting more demands on the cooling apparatuses.” This means more energy is needed to make the space functional and this places additional stress on already struggling electrical wires.

Architecture and building codes
Assistant Professor Dr Saeed Ud Din Ahmed of the architecture department at NEDUET adds that building codes are not followed for places that become supermarkets or stores. “In all public buildings you have egress corridors that are clearly marked for fire escapes,” he said. These establishments do not have this.

When these buildings are constructed or repurposed for supermarkets, fire safety graded material is not used. These materials have fire safety ratings of for example, one hour or 1.5hours of preventing a fire. “You are also supposed to use chemical sprays that are fire rated,” he said. “There are even sprays for the fabric of chairs or wooden doors that work to retard fire.”

“Just recently, there was a fire at Bin Hashim in Gulistan-e-Jauhar,” he said. “It started in the basement at night. The basement was packed and had only one door so the fire brigade tried everything but then had to get labourers to break through in order to get the water in. It took hours to control it.”

Poor quality circuit breakers are used. They are meant to stop the power supply if there is a spark. But when they break down, the electricians just provide a direct supply. The circuit breakers are in the electrical distribution boards which should be placed outdoors and made visible so people can see if a spark happens. According to Dr Saeed Ud Din, often with supermarkets, these distribution boards are located in the basement which is turned into a godown.

Dr Syed Shahid Ali’s map showing Karachi’s 22 fire stations and the area they cover.

How many fires in Karachi
Dr Syed Shahid Ali, who has retired from the department of Geography at the University of Karachi, brought together data on Karachi’s fire-fighting capabilities in 2015. According to his tabulations, in Pakistan, fires kill 16,500 people and leave 164,000 injured or disabled every year. The losses and insurance claims run up to Rs400 billion.

His paper goes into great detail on Karachi, which had, at the time of the paper’s publication, 22 fire stations. In his data from 2007 to 2014, the leading fire stations emerged as Korangi FS, Saddar FS and Central FS which encountered 10% of the fires in  the city during those eight years. “These cover mainly the Old City areas or major parts of the business hub and the second largest cluster of industries.”

“One thing that I recommend is that a fire station be linked to our police stations,” said Dr Ali. “We have about 108 police stations in Karachi. You can associate the two.”

He found that the number of calls to fire stations has gone up in Karachi. From 2000 to 2013 more than 49,500 calls were received out of which about 96% were for fires. The good news is that fire stations are located well, with an immediate response area in a 2km radius from each one.

Fire DateShop and area where it took place
Jan 22, 2016Gulf Centre, Clifton
March 31, 2016Rabi Centre, Tariq Road
April 12, 2016Dolmen Mall, Tariq Road
June 2, 2016Ashiana Shopping Centre, Clifton
June 3, 2016Hyperstar Mall, Clifton
Aug 6, 2016Gold Mark, Defence
Aug 6, 2016Jama Cloth Market, MA Jinnah Rd
Aug 7, 2016Gul Plaza, MA JInnah Road
Aug 26, 2016Gul Plaza, MA JInnah Road
Oct 13, 2016Madina Mall, Saddar
Oct 17, 2016Gul Centre, Saddar
Oct 25, 2016Atrium Mall, Saddar
Oct 27, 2016Atrium Mall, Saddar
Oct 29, 2016Erum Shopping Centre
Jan 4, 2017Atrium Mall, Saddar
Jan 21, 2017Madni Shopping Mall, Hyderi
Feb 2, 2017TechnoCity Mall
April 30, 2017Imtiaz Store, Gulshan
May 2, 2017Zainab Market, Saddar
June 28, 2017Jama Cloth Market, MA Jinnah Rd
June 29, 2017Metro Department Store, Shahrah-e-Faisal
July 18, 2017Gul Plaza, MA JInnah Road
Oct 17, 2017Mateen Centre, Tariq Road
Nov 1, 2017Glamour One, Tariq Road
Nov 22, 2017Karim Centre, Saddar
Dec 9, 2017Silk Mall, Shaheed-e-Millat
Dec 12, 2017City Shopping Mall
Feb 2, 2018Gul Plaza, MA JInnah Road
Feb 17, 2018Green Super Market, Disco Bakery
March 4, 2018Millenium Mall, Gulshan
March 25, 2018Naheed Super Store, Shaheed-e-Millat
March 27, 2018Ocean Shopping Mall, Clifton
April 11, 2018Gul Centre, Saddar
April 12, 2018Al Karam Studio, Bahadurabad
April 16, 2018A-Market Super Store
May 24, 2018Grace Shopping Centre, Gulistan-e-Johar
June 9, 2018Rainbow Centre
June 17, 2018Jama Cloth Market, MA Jinnah Rd
June 24, 2018Atrium Mall, Saddar
June 24, 2018TechnoCity Mall
Aug 23, 2018Imtiaz Super Store, Awami Markaz
Aug 24, 2018Imtiaz Super Store, Awami Markaz
Oct 1, 2018TechnoCity Mall
Oct 10, 2018Imtiaz Super Store, Nazimabad
Jan 31, 2019KK Super Market
Feb 28, 2019Millennium Mall, Gulshan
April 18, 2019Empress View Mall, Saddar
May 7, 2019Bin Hashim Store, Gulistan-e-Johar
June 4, 2019Madina Shopping Mall, Tariq Road
June 23, 2019Erum Shopping Centre, Gulistan-e-Johar
July 23, 2019RJ Mall, Rashid Minhas Road
Aug 11, 2019Mateen Centre, Tariq Road

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One Comment

  1. Abdul Loya  November 19, 2020 1:37 am/ Reply

    It’s no Malls and Markets only high-rise buildings are bigger traps. Without providing external fire escape stair case. There are Building Regulations Fire Sprinklers at ever floor and external fire escape Stairs. Builders overlook them and Authority let them go.

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