Ready to burn – Mochi Gate plazas prone to accidents

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LAHORE – A number of multi-storey plazas, located in densely-populated areas, are highly-prone to accidents such as Mochi Gate plazas, which were gutted by a massive fire but causes of the tragedy are still unnoticed by the City District Government Lahore, town administrations and the Lahore Development Authority, Pakistan Today has learnt.
A CDGL fire brigade officer told Pakistan Today that weak structural strength, absence of safe exits, fire alarming gears and lack of sophisticated extinguishing equipment were reasons behind the tragic incident and collapse of plazas including the Behria Plaza, Butt Plaza and Qadri Plaza.
He said that short-circuiting was the basic reason behind the fire due to unplanned excessive addition of shops that increased power load on electricity wiring, use of sub-standard power cables in wiring network, unannounced power outages, absence of a system to control electricity fluctuation, spread of untidy wires in basements of buildings housing warehouses and wall-to-wall connected buildings.
“All these reasons are seen in all plazas situated at different congested areas in the provincial metropolis and it is alarming that the CDGL, town administrations and LDA, which regulate building rules, are unaware of the situation and even not ready to rectify the problems,” he added. Rescue 1122 DG Rizwan Muneer confirmed that the Mochi Gate buildings gutted and collapsed as none of the firefighting gadgets, fire detectors, hydrants and exits were available there. He said that unless plazas were constructed according to building regulations featuring fire controlling systems, tragedies were bound to happen.
LDA town planning experts suggested that owners of plazas and traders also need to act to improve their electrical wiring to avert short-circuiting. “Command and control system is very imperative to improve coordination between all departments concerned to deal with any emergency. But, it is pitiable that no serious efforts could be seen except statements by authority concerned,” they lamented.
Another civil defence official said that according to a random survey by the CDGL, plazas and big shopping centres face danger of being gutted at any time, as increasing power load with addition of new shops and adjacent buildings in violation of original building map damage the wiring network that often results in eruption of fire after short-circuiting.
“Untidy wires are also spread in basements of buildings where a majority of warehouses and shops are located. They have created makeshift floors within their shops to create space for workers. Plazas at the Liberty Market, Shah Alam Market and Hall Road are the best example in this regard. A web of electric wires can be seen dangling from their cabinets in almost every shop.
Intricate and careless wiring for billboards, decorative lights and air conditioning goes to show how much money traders put in to promote and run their businesses at risk of their and customers’ lives,” the survey said. According to the survey, authorities were also not paying heed towards the situation because there is no process to check wire quality and other issues related to electricity wiring.
Shopkeeper Rehman at the Mochi Gate near Behria Plaza, told Pakistan Today, “The main electricity supply box remains open in our plaza even in rain and we often see sparks and flames emanating from this box, which also leads to suspension of power supply of whole plaza.” Electrical engineer Faiz Raza said, “Electricity wiring is one of the toughest job for an electrician, but unfortunately in our country every person who is associated with the electricity business calls himself an electrician.”
Plaza owner Hussain Mirza said, “All plazas at the Mochi Gate have the same electricity system, where the main supply boxes are placed openly and it is responsibility of LESCO to replace these faulty systems.”
“We are only responsible for wiring between the main connections and meters,” an official said adding that it was not their responsibility to check wiring inside plazas or markets. Dangling bunches of naked electric wires are a common sight in such buildings across the town that pose a grave threat to visitors and shopkeepers.
Substandard wiring with low-quality electricity cables used in these plazas is considered as another cause for short-circuiting that lead to eruption of fire. CDGL Fire Brigade sources said that most plazas, especially those located at congested areas, are located very close to each other. They lack any safe exit in case of fire like emergency and in some buildings, tools of fire extinguisher are placed but there is no trained staff to use them, sources said.
“These plazas did not have a sophisticated system to sustain power tripping and fluctuations. Monitoring bodies should be constituted to estimate the exact load of power so that cables could be replaced according to it,” sources added. They said that unannounced load shedding or intermittent power breakdowns damage even high-quality electricity cables and wires. “Once power cables lose their strength and connections get loose, threats of short-circuiting increases manifold,” sources said.
They said that departments concerned and power companies have to make a detailed review to find a solution to the problem. Sources held the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR), University of Engineering and Technology (UET) and Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) laboratories responsible for testing such substandard electric cables.
But a PCSIR official said that the centre was not a regulatory authority and only gave reports for those electric cable samples that were submitted to them for quality testing.