Initial investigations underway

Erbil’s Qaysari bazaar fire destroys 227 shops and 7 warehouses

ERBIL — A fire tore through Erbil’s historic Qaysari Bazaar on Sunday night, destroying 227 shops and 7 warehouses, and leaving 132 people injured, the governor’s office said on Monday.

A statement from Governor Omid Khoshnaw’s office said 13 personnel from the civil defense, security, and police forces were injured in the fire, a number of them from smoke inhalation.

Medical teams treated 117 individuals at the scene, while 15 others requiring further medical care, were transferred to Erbil’s emergency hospital for treatment.

A committee has been formed to investigate the cause of the fire and assess the damage.

The blaze erupted around 8:30 p.m. in the bustling bazaar, located near the city’s ancient citadel. The Qaysari, known for its dense network of shops selling everything from clothing to gold, is a major commercial center in Erbil.

“Initial investigations” indicated that 372 shops were completely gutted, said Nabaz Abdulhamid, the Erbil qaymaqam.

The full extent of the damage and losses within the 4,000-shop bazaar remains unclear.

Abdulhamid stated that a joint committee comprised of provincial government officials, civil defense, rapid response teams, and security forces has been established to determine the fire’s cause and assess the damage.

Erbil’s civil defense teams, firefighters, and security forces battled the blaze for nearly four hours before bringing it under control. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Initial reports had suggested the fire was caused by an electrical short. That same claim has been used to explain a number of other fires that have ravaged Erbil’s markets this year. In light of the latest blaze, the Kurdistan Region’s Ministry of Electricity formed an investigative committee but said in a statement it found no evidence to confirm the fire was caused by an electrical issue.

Reports also suggested the fire originated in a children’s clothing store and a wholesale center before spreading rapidly to the nearby gold market, posing a significant challenge for firefighters.

While official estimates of shopkeeper losses are not yet available, some have shared their devastation. One shopkeeper, who owned several shops and a warehouse destroyed in the fire, estimated losses exceeding $500,000.

Another shopkeeper recounted rushing to his shop after hearing the news, only to find it completely burned. He estimated his losses at over $70,000.

The fire prompted many shopkeepers to scramble and save their merchandise before the fire spread. One shopkeeper, highlighting the potential fire hazard of leaving goods outside shops overnight, rushed to remove his stock upon hearing news of the blaze.

The incident sparked an outpouring of support for Erbil with residents across the Kurdistan Region expressing their concern on social media, while the governors of Sulaymaniyah and Duhok offered well wishes and pledged assistance.

Sulaymaniyah Governor Haval Abubakir wrote on Facebook, “May God protect Erbil. We assured the Erbil governor that Sulaymaniyah stands ready to provide all forms of support and cooperation.”

Duhok Governor Ali Tatar echoed the sentiment on Facebook, stating, “In a phone call with my brother, Omid Khoshnaw, the governor of Erbil, we offered our condolences for the fire that struck Erbil’s bazaar and assured him of our readiness to assist in any way possible.”

The U.S. Consulate General in Erbil also released a statement via X (previously known as Twitter) expressing “sympathy to all those who were affected by the tragic fire that broke out at Qaysari Bazaar located near the historic Citadel of Erbil.”

“We also commend Erbil’s brave first responders for their extraordinary efforts, as well as the medical teams who helped alleviate the damage,” the statement read.

Erbil has witnessed a surge in fire incidents during the first quarter of 2024, with officials reporting on March 28 that 208 fires that had claimed three lives and caused billions of dinars in property damage since January 1.

This story has been updated to reflect the latest confirmed number of shops and warehouses affected by the Qaysari Bazaar fire as. It also includes a statement from the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil.

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