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Mall in Pakistan where fire killed 11 lacked safety equipment, emergency exit – report

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KARACHI: A shopping mall building in southern Pakistan where a fire killed 11 people last week lacked fire safety equipment and an emergency exit, the fire department said on Monday.

The fire broke out at the multi-storey RJ Mall, a commercial high-rise that also houses call centers and software firms, early on Saturday in the port city of Karachi, known for its fragile fire protection system and poor safety controls.

In its report released Monday, the city’s fire department cited serious violations of fire safety rules by mall management.

“No public safety system, including fire fighting equipment and emergency exit, was available at the RJ mall,” the report said.

It says the fire department did not receive timely information about the fire, and when firefighters arrived on the scene, the 3rd and 4th floors of the building were already “severely burning.”

“Intense smoke was collected throughout the mall due to which the fire brigade team faced difficulties in carrying out fire fighting operations,” the report said.

The fire service said its fire crews safely evacuated around 45 people who were trapped in their offices by breaking down the doors.

The report came a day after Karachi police registered a case against K-Electric, the city’s main electricity company, and the fire department for their “criminal negligence” in ensuring safety protocols at the mall.

Police said substandard materials were used to construct the mall, with the builders getting approvals from both K-Electric and the fire department despite apparent safety violations.

Karachi Mayor Murtaza Wahab criticized the police for “wrongfully involving” the fire department of the city’s Metropolitan Corporation, which he heads.

“Unfortunately, we are doing the work and we are the ones facing reporters on Monday, adding that the responsibility for ensuring safety protocols rests with the Canton Council, one of several independent civic bodies under whose jurisdiction the mall is located .

“The map of this building is not approved by [Sindh] Building Control Authority or KMC [Karachi Metropolitan Corporation], and is not regulated by them. His card was accepted by the Canton Council.

Arab News tried to contact the Cantonment Board for comment on the matter but did not receive a response to its email or calls.

The latest incident sheds light on safety violations and the complex governance system of Karachi, a sprawling metropolis of nearly 15 million people where such incidents are not uncommon.

Earlier this year in April, a fire tore through a garment factory and killed four firefighters. The flames engulfed the building and eventually collapsed it. In August 2021, at least 10 people were killed in a fire at a chemical plant in the same city.

In the deadliest such incident, 260 people were killed after being trapped in a garment factory when a fire broke out in 2012.

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