Qatar’s Wholesale market, a major provider of the country’s produce needs, has reopened today after a massive fire ripped through a line of nearby grocery stores Sunday morning.
It took hours for the blaze to be brought under control, and firemen could be seen dousing the site with water as late as last night.
After inspecting the areas affected by the fire, government officials ordered vendors to discard some 10 tons of local and international produce yesterday, causing markets to shut down temporarily.
According to the Peninsula, the disposal of the produce is expected to affect supplies of fruits and vegetables around the country.
Several vendors who spoke to Doha News yesterday expressed concerns about sales losses and said they hoped business would resume soon.
According to the vendors, the fire, which broke out around 11:30 am on Sunday, was caused by the short-circuiting of an air-conditioning unit at a grocery store complex behind the Kilo market.
Smoke from the blaze, which originated in one grocery store and quickly spread to five other shops nearby, quickly settled over the adjacent Kilo Market, a wholesale market that sells produce.
A few hours after the fire broke out, the Kilo market and two adjoining wholesale markets – the local produce market and the international market – were evacuated, and vendors were asked to close down their shops.
One of the Kilo market’s vendors told Doha News that around 3 or 4pm, a government inspector examined the fruits and vegetables in all three markets and deemed them unfit for consumption.
“After that, these huge garbage trucks that crush garbage were brought in, and all the fruits and vegetables that were out on display and the ones that were in supply (in boxes) were destroyed.”
The decision to clear out thousands of kilos of produce prompted mixed reactions, with many vendors calling the move “unnecessary.”
“They took all our fruits and vegetables for no reason. I understand if they just took the things on display, but they took the produce that was stored in supply in the stores too, which wasn’t damaged by the smoke,” said one vendor.
According to other vendors at the local produce market, this is the first time that ministry officials have taken such a step. Mohammed Jahangir, a Bangladeshi vendor who has sold produce in Qatar for more than two decades, said:
“There was a fire three years ago, right here in these portacabins just about 2m away, and they didn’t clear anything out. But this time…I think they cleared out about 500 boxes from this market alone, and each carton has about four to five kilos of fruits.”
However, he added that the fumes from the fire were possibly toxic, as the grocery stores that burned carried stocks of oil, sugar, soap and other flammables.
Jahangir also said that supplies that had been stored inside vans at the local and international produce markets were left untouched, but that authorities had yet to give the vendors clearance to offload their goods.
When Doha News visited the affected area last evening, the decision to reopen the markets this morning was still not finalized.
Civil Defense personnel could be observed extinguishing embers from the blaze, while an ambulance parked on standby. Vehicle access to the complex was still restricted, with an Al Fazaa van blocking the road leading to the area.
Meanwhile, the Baladiya said cleanup in the area continues, after massive amounts of water were used to extinguish Sunday’s blaze.
Vendors at the small grocery stores opposite the burned shops said that they hoped that business would resume today.
“You can see that we have produce out here, but we’re not allowed to sell it. This stuff is from our orders that have come in. The ministry still has to give us the clearance to sell again,” said employees at Khalid Ali Ahmed Abdullah Al-Naama, a grocery store opposite the burned complex.
Meanwhile at the Kilo, local and international produce markets, several other vendors also expressed hope that they would be allowed to operate soon.
“We have fruits and vegetables in the trucks on standby here. We haven’t gotten the go-ahead to offload them yet, but it’s 90 percent going to come by tonight. So we’ll offload everything today evening and by tomorrow morning we should be up and running… It’s still a big loss of business – destroyed produce, and a day of no sales,” Jahangir added yesterday.