LAHORE - Seven young men died and several others sustained burns when huge fire erupted in the site office of a construction company working on the metro-train project near Mahmood Booti interchange, police and rescue workers said yesterday.

At least nine fire victims were admitted to a hospital where the condition of three of them was stated to be very critical till late Wednesday night.

According to eyewitnesses, rescue workers failed to respond to the emergency call on time. As a result, seven young men died on the spot. “The fire was already controlled when the firefighters reached there,” locals said.

It was however not clear what caused the blaze. An official said they were investigating the incident to find out whether the fire broke out because of short-circuiting or some cylinder blast triggered the blaze.

“We have seen a few gas cylinders inside the building. But anything at this stage could be premature. We are trying to find out what actually happened there,” an official of the firefighting service (Rescue 1122) told The Nation last night.

The victims, aged between 17 and 22, were working on daily wages with a contractor of the Habib construction company. Over a dozen men received multiple burns. Nine were shifted to a nearby Kot Khawaja Saeed hospital while the others were provided treatment on the site.

The blaze broke out on the third floor of the large compound at about 02:00pm when workers were asleep. Dozens of workers were living in the compound as they had to work in three shifts. The tragedy struck the compound where tired workers were sleeping after working for eight hours in the night shift.

One of the workers told the media at the site that five people were burnt alive and two others died as they jumped out of the third floor to flee the fire. “We repeatedly contacted the Rescue (1122) service but they did not respond. When firefighters reached the site, the fire was almost controlled,” said Ghulam Abbas, a 23-year-old worker.

Lahore’s district emergency officer Dr Ahmed Raza told The Nation that at least seven people died and nine others wounded in the fire incident. The condition of three of the injured was said to be serious till late Wednesday night.

He said that seven fire victims had already expired when the rescuers reached the spot. At least four firefighting units took part in the operation and managed to put out the blaze within 30 minutes, the officer added. He also denied the reports that rescuers reached the site one hour and 20 minutes after the happening. “Actually, the workers first tried themselves to extinguish the blaze. When the situation went out of control, they contacted us,” claimed the officer.

According to him, the fire erupted at about 01:40pm and the rescue service received the emergency call at about 02:03pm. Our first vehicle reached the site within seven minutes, he added.

The fire spread quickly because of sheets and fabric used for partition inside the building. The victims could not get any chance to escape the fire due to its intensity. “The victims worked in the night shift and they were asleep when the blaze broke out,” Dr Raza said.

Rescue official Faridud Din said efforts were underway to ascertain the identity of the victims. Six of the seven dead were identified yet. A charred body of a 30-year-old man was said to be beyond recognition.

The dead were named by rescue workers as 18-year-old Sajid, 19-year-old Muhammad Dilawar, 21-year-old Waqar, 18-year-old Nadeem, and 21-year-old Bilal.

At least nine injured were shifted to the Kot Khawaja Saeed hospital. They were identified as Arif, 19, Nadeem, 22, Amjad 18, Younis 28, Abid, 22, Naveed, 19, Ramazan 20, Samiuddin, 18, and Mohammad Abbas, 17.

Authorities have launched an inquiry to probe into the incident. All the victims are said to be the residents of different Punjab districts. The provincial government is yet to announce any compensation for families of the victims who were working on low wages without proper safety measures.