Punjab government spokesman Malik Ahmad Khan told Anadolu Agency over the phone the fire tragedy took place when a big crowd of villagers had gathered to collect fuel from an overturned tanker on the national highway near Ahmedpur Sharqia area in Bahawalpur division.

According to initial report, a cigarette is suspected to have caused the massive blaze that engulfed the people collecting the spilled fuel, Khan said.

He confirmed the death toll at 153 and said 115 burn victims had been shifted to the province’s Multan and Bahawalpur city hospitals.

The death toll may rise further since many of the injured continue to be in critical conditions, he added.

The tanker was carrying around 30,000 liters of oil; it was traveling from southern Karachi city to northeastern Lahore city when it overturned at around 6 a.m. local time (1300 GMT) near Ahmadpur east, he said.

Forensic teams have arrived to collect DNA samples from the site since some bodies have been charred beyond recognition, he said.

The huge loss of lives comes just a day before Pakistan marks Eid-al Fitr on Monday.

A number of other vehicles were also caught in the blaze.

Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and Chief Minister Punjab Shahraz Sharif ordered to evacuate the injured to Multan and Lahore hospitals after reports emerged that no burn units existed in nearby hospitals. In a statement, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said helicopters had been dispatched for evacuation of casualties to hospitals.

Turkey offered its condolence over the tragic incident.

In a statement posted on its official website, Turkish Foreign Ministry said: “We learned with deep sorrow that more than a hundred people were killed and many were injured as a result of a tanker accident in Bahawalpur city in Punjab province of Pakistan.

“We wish Allah’s mercy upon those who lost their lives as a result of this grievous incident and speedy recovery to the wounded. We convey our condolences to the relatives of those who lost their lives, to the friendly and brotherly people and Government of Pakistan.”

Anadolu Agency