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Hundreds of stores destroyed as raging fire guts Kabul market

December 23, 2012|By Alexandra Zavis | Los Angeles Times
  • Bystanders view the destruction after flames swept through a clothing market in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Bystanders view the destruction after flames swept through a clothing… (S. Sabawoon / EPA )

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Firefighters battled through the night to contain a raging fire that swept through a market in the Afghan capital.

No injuries were reported, but the blaze destroyed hundreds of stores and millions of dollars worth of merchandise, Afghan police and firefighters said at the scene. 

Dealers at the neighboring currency exchange, the city’s largest, said they evacuated cash, computer equipment and records from their shops as the flames approached during the night. But in the morning, the market was jammed with people haggling over thick stacks of notes as smoke billowed overhead.

Col. Mohammed Qasem, general director of the Kabul fire department, said he suspected an electrical short was to blame for the fire. 

Gas canisters used to heat the stores propelled the flames, along with the cloth and clothing sold by many of the vendors, Qasem said. “It made it very big in a short time.”

Firefighters from the Afghan defense department and NATO forces were sent to assist. But the city’s notorious traffic and the market’s narrow lanes made it difficult for responders to maneuver their vehicles, Qasem said.

Abdulrahman, who like many Afghans has only one name, squatted near a fire truck with his head in his hands  as responders aimed a hose at the blackened ruins of a building still smoldering at noon Sunday, more than 12 hours after the fire broke out.

He said the building had contained three shops that he owned and a warehouse full of glassware, crockery and kitchen utensils. 

“I lost everything,” he said.

Shirali Khan complained that police hadn't allowed him to remove the goods from his four clothing stores.

“They thought we were all robbers,” he said.  “There’s only ashes left.”

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Special correspondent Hashmat Baktash contributed to this report.

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