Seventy people were killed on Wednesday night as a fire ripped through several multi-storey buildings, many of them housing chemical and plastic warehouses, in a crammed old part of Bangladesh capital Dhaka.
The fire broke out in a chemical warehouse on the ground floor of a five-storey building, named Hazi Wahed Mansion, behind a mosque in Old Dhaka’s congested Chawkbazar area and the flames then quickly spread through four other buildings, including a community centre where a wedding party was on, a fire official said.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) officials said the fire spread rapidly due to the multiple chemical godowns situated in the area.
The death toll rose to 70, fire officials said, warning that it could rise further as dozens of people were trapped in the buildings and the firefighters were yet to enter the main spot where the fire broke out.
'It may have began with gas cylinder burst '
Bangladesh’s fire service chief Ali Ahmed said the blaze may have started with a gas cylinder burst.
“The flames raced through four adjoining buildings, which were also used as chemical warehouses. There was a traffic jam when the fire broke out. It spread so quickly that people could not escape,” he said.
TV images showed the main gate of a five-storey building locked, leaving its residents trapped.
Witnesses said the victims included passersby, some who were eating food at nearby restaurants and some members of a wedding party.
Over 50 people, including women and children, were injured and admitted to nearby hospitals, including the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) and Sir Salimullah Medical College Hospital (Mitford Hospital).
Some people were injured after they jumped from a building.
The fire officials said 37 firefighting units were moved to the scene but narrow lanes made it difficult for fire engines to reach the spot. Firefighters used helicopters and long hosepipes to set off the blaze.
The blaze was under control but not completely doused because of flammable chemicals, AKM Shakil Newaz, director of Fire Service and Civil Defence told Bdnews24.
Building at risk of collapsing
The building where the fire started was at the risk of collapsing, local media reports said.
Its first floor was used as a warehouse of plastic goods, cosmetics and perfume. Some families lived on the upper floors, according to residents. The ground floor, where the fire originated, had several shops.
The fire immediately caused an electric transformer to explode, which set ablaze several cars parked on the alley. The alley was packed with people because of the wedding ceremony in the nearby community centre.
An investigation has been launched to identify the cause of the fire.
The 2010 blaze that claimed 120 lives
The fire brings back the terrifying memories of the blaze in 2010 in an old Dhaka building, which was also used as a chemical warehouse, that killed more than 120 people in one of the worst fire tragedies in Bangladesh.
It sparked a public outcry, demanding the relocation of chemical warehouses and stores from the area, but little has been done in the last nine years.