By Maira Assad
At 12.16 am on 14th September, Shiza Kamil ’22 found herself racing across campus towards the security office. Behind her, an orange glow burned in a window on the third floor of Henna-Amina Hall (F-3).
At the same time, inside F-3, Shiza Akhtar ’22 puzzled over the WhatsApp message that had just popped up on her phone: “GUYS, FIRE IN F-3.” She looked up to see blank faces surrounding her in the common room and decided to put her phone aside. Just then, a few girls rushed in.
“There’s a fire in Room 415,” one of them screamed. It took Akhtar a moment to realize that the girl was talking about her room.
Akhtar handed her phone to a stranger and unlocked the door to her room. The curtain had gone up in flames. A mass of black smoke forced its way out into the corridor.
“I quickly took a mental inventory to see what I had to save and I grabbed my book, American Gods,” she told The Post.
Meanwhile, panic ensued. Incoherent screams permeated the walls of F-3. Several girls filed outside, some running towards the commotion, some fleeing away from it. Others stayed back and initiated an evacuation process. One of the students, Rojah Sheikh ’22, attempted to use the fire extinguisher and immediately, 415 was filled with an ashy-white smoke .
“The visibility went to zero. There was no telling whether the fire had been put out,” she said.
Members of the student council, along with men from the LUMS security quickly arrived at the scene, took charge and eventually put out the fire.
Outside, Akhtar was reaching her breaking point. “I was so panicked. My roommate was off campus and I didn’t know what to do. I was looking around for my phone like a crazy person.”
Colonel Amer Khan, Head of General Administration Services at LUMS, went inside the building briefly, came out and said to the large gathering of girls: “Don’t smoke. Don’t smoke. Don’t smoke.”
Heads turned towards Akhtar. Rumors formed around her and her roommate, Areeba Fatima ‘22, who wasn’t on campus at the time.
At the time, the absence of any official statement regarding the cause of the fire caused speculations to arise. Many were quick to attribute the cause of the fire to a box of cigarettes found at the scene.
Colonel Amer told The Post: “I wasn’t there when it happened. The girls (that lived in 415) weren’t there when it happened. This makes it hard to determine what the cause was.”
He added that,when he reached 415, he tried to make sense of what he saw. “You imagine, what would you think when you arrived at the scene and saw that a fire had broken out and cigarette butts were lying around? Your mind would make assumptions wouldn’t it?”
However, he clarified that students shouldn’t be spreading rumors about the girls involved in the F3 incident. “We’re not pointing fingers.”
Akhtar was relocated back to F-3. She took stock of the changes: a half-curtain (the part that survived the fire) hung from the railing, a patch of black marked the floor, and the bed and fairy lights were covered in ash-white. The section of the wall below the window had been repainted.
In response to why the electrical sockets had not been replaced, Colonel Amer told The Post that there was no need, as there was no damage done in that area.
The evacuation process on the night of 14th September in F-3 was instigated by the students themselves. One of them, Hania Khan ‘22, was acting from experience.
Last year, around 2.30 p.m. on December 8th, 2018, Khan was in the kitchen in Ali Family Hall (F-5) when she picked up the smell of burning plastic. A moment later, she saw smoke gather in the corridor of her wing.
She opened the door to her room, 505, and saw her roommate sleeping, oblivious to the fire burning from the socket above her head.
“I didn’t panic. My roommate didn’t panic. I put out the fire myself. The extinguishers were a little stuck, but I do know fire protocol and was able to do it myself,” she explained.
“After emailing the Resident’s Office, they sent three members from the Resident’s Office, along with an external electrician and a security guard. Initially, the electrician tried to blame the fire on my extension wire.”
Khan was quick to clarify that she had been following the hostel’s stipulated guidelines for the usage of electrical equipment.
It was concluded that the cause of the incident was a short circuit, but the news wasn’t commented on by the university officials. Khan said, “Except for Colonel Amer sending out an email of what to do in the event of a fire, the warden, security office or the resident’s office did not send out any specific warning or a notice that there had been a fire. So no one knew, because I didn’t post about it, either.”
On the recent fires, she said, “There was a lot of panic during the fire at F-3. The administration should ensure that there are students or people on each floor who are aware of emergency protocols in case of situations like these.”
Regarding these concerns, Colonel Amer told The Post that there are plans to install an alarm system in the future as part of the preventative measures being taken against fire outbreaks.
Along with the student hostels, the Khoka also recently caught fire. It occurred on the morning of 6th October, around 5.30 a.m. When Ijaz Hussain, the owner of the store, arrived at LUMS two hours later, he found a good portion of his store and recent stock burnt and defunct, including refrigerators, and tea/coffee machines.
“There were cartons of chips, plastic bottles – when these things catch fire, the flames can’t be quelled. The CCTVs in the store had been burned but I was able to see a video of the fire on the DVR, which showed us that the fire started from where the cartons were placed next to the fridge,” Hussain told The Post.
Ijaz Hussain has been working at the khoka store for 23 years.
“I was here when the only other food place on campus was the Pepsi Dining Center,” he said, not losing his trail of thought during his interview with The Post when handing out change to his customers.
During his time working at the Khoka, there have been three incidents of fire.
“The first fire occurred somewhere back in 2006-2008. It happened during Ramadan, around sehri, when the store was locked up. That fire was just as bad as this one.”
The second instance took place around 2016-2017. “I was sitting here (behind the payment counter) and a small fire started right in front of me, because of a short circuit. We were able to douse it out with water immediately.”
When asked about the repeated occurrence of these fires, he said: “There are so many machines in the store, and they’re working 24/7. There’s a constant load on the electrical system. It’s a huge risk for us every time we have to close down the store and leave it unattended. But majboori hoti hai. We try to provide the students with the best that we can.”
The reparations to the khoka were done on an urgent basis in three days, and were financed by Hussain himself. He estimated anywhere between 11-15 lakhs that he would have to spend to make up for his losses.
“We only just renovated the khoka over the summer. Aakhir mein hamara hee nuqsaan tha.”
Colonel Amer, regarding the fire at Khoka, told The Post that the cause was due to the use of wires with worn out insulation. For this reason, he plans on doing routinely checks to ensure an avoidance of this happening again.
According to Colonel Amer, there is one theme that connects and explains all of these occurrences: negligence.
“This negligence could be from our end, your end or someone else’s end,” he told The Post, followed by an account of another fire breaking out in a dustbin in SDSB recently. “Someone threw a cigarette butt in it without putting it out properly. The trash can caught fire an entire hour after the cigarette butt was thrown in. The person [who threw it] wasn’t present at the scene by then, but the fire had still slowly erupted from that one cigarette butt.”
He talked about the preventative measures that are being taken to avoid incidents like this in the future.
On October 6, he sent out an email to the student body detailing firefighting instructions.
On October 17, experts from 1122 were called in to give hands on training to the response team at LUMS. The aim, according to Colonel Amer, is to initiate the training process from the immediate people in charge only after which, hostel-to-hostel training sessions can be conducted.
“My biggest concern right now is to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
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