Dhaka: At least 81 people were killed and many others injured as fire swept through adjoining apartment buildings and chemical warehouses in a historic part of the Bangladesh capital Dhaka. Officials said the fire broke out at night in a chemical warehouse on the ground floor of a four-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 nearby, including a community centre where a wedding party was on.
Fire officials said that the blaze has claimed 81 lives so far. Dhaka Metropolitan Police officials said the fire spread rapidly due to the multiple chemical godowns that were situated in the area. Fire service control room spokesman Kamrul Ahsan confirmed the death toll to be 81 while state-run Dhaka Medical College Hospital’s director Brigadier General AKM Nasiruddin said 78 bodies were kept at their disposal. Nasiruddin, however, feared that the toll may rise as several people were being treated at the facility with critical burn injuries.
The fire officials called off the rescue operation after nearly 14 hours of efforts. Two-hundred fire-fighters from 37 units doused the blaze, making their way to the scene through narrow lanes with fire engines. “Some of the bodies were burned very badly, difficult to be identified... of the victims, five are children and nine women,” a doctor said. Bangladesh’s fire service chief Ali Ahmed said the blaze may have started with a gas cylinder before quickly spreading through the building where chemicals were stored.
“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 one of the buildings was locked, leaving its residents trapped, unable to escape the blaze as it swept through its five storeys. Witnesses said the victims also included passersby, some people who were eating food at a nearby restaurants and some members of a wedding party.
Over 50 people, including women and children, were also injured and admitted to nearby hospitals.
Some of the residents were injured after they jumped off the building. The officials said narrow lanes made it difficult for the fire engines to reach the spot. The fire fighters used helicopters and long hose pipes to set off the blaze.
President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina mourned the casualties and ordered the best possible treatment for those injured. State-run facilities were asked to provide free of cost services to the injured. The four-storey building where the fire started is at the risk of collapsing due to damage, according to media reports.