LAHORE - Five people were suffocated to death after massive fire broke out in a multi-storey plaza near Barkat Market in Garden Town, rescuers said Tuesday.

The blaze erupted in a bakery shop and spread to the entire ground floor within minutes. It was not clear yet how the fire broke out. However, firefighters say they believe the short-circuit caused the blaze.

A spokesman for the Punjab Emergency Services described the hours-long search and rescue operation as successful and said they rescued at least four people from the seven-storey building by using mechanical stairs.

“The deaths happened since there was no fire alarm system in the high-rise structure. All the five victims died of suffocation. They were sleeping on mattresses in different rooms when the fire erupted,” said Muhammad Farooq, the spokesman of Rescue-1122.

“When we reached the spot, one floor of the building was completely on fire and the whole plaza was filled with smoke,” he said.

The seven-storey plaza on houses shops, offices, and residential apartments. The blaze erupted early Tuesday morning. “We received the call for help at 06:31am and at least 50 firefighters and 15 vehicles were sent to the site immediately,” Farooq said.

A private security guard told reporters that the fire erupted inside the bakery shop, all of a sudden. All shops were closed in the leading commercial market when the fire broke out, he said. “We tried to raise an alarm to warn the residents who were asleep on the upper portion but the fire spread very quickly. At one stage, the whole structure was filled with thick smoke.”

A firefighter said they launched the operation and managed to control the fire within 30 to 40 minutes but the search operation took a reasonable time. The rescuers searched all the floors and rooms and shops. Many shops and rooms were found locked,” he said.

Four of the five victims were identified by police as Shakeel, 15, Talib, 30, Shahbaz 25, and Shahid, 40. The authorities were yet to ascertain the identity of the fifth victim. The bodies were sent to a hospital on ambulance.  Authorities also launched an investigation to probe into the incident.

CM grieved

Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday expressed a deep sense of sorrow and grief over the loss of lives due to fire in a bakery in Barkat Market  area of Garden Town, APP reported.

He extended sympathies to the bereaved families and  directed to provide best treatment facilities to the injured.  He also sought a report of the incident and said that comprehensive investigations from every respect be held.

Seven outlaws held

City Division Investigation police claimed to have arrested seven accused, involved in murder, extortion and other crimes and recovered weapons from them.

 Addressing press conference  on Tuesday, SP City Iqrar Hussain said  investigation  teams of city division were putting efforts to arrest the  culprit of murder case, extortion and other crimes.

The SP said Rang Mehal police homicide circle sub- inspector Ehsanul Haq arrested two accused Tauheed and Mosa involved in a murder case and recovered a pistol from them.

However, a police team led by Lower Mall circle sub- inspector Tariq arrested Waqas, Ishfaq, and Nadeem involved in a murder case and recovered a knife and two cutters from their possession.

Another culprit Waqas involved in murder and extortion cases have also been arrested by Misri Shah police incharge inspector Rehmat. Further investigation was underway.