Dhaka, Feb 22 : Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Friday ordered authorities to relocate and remove all the chemical factories and warehouses in Old Dhaka after a massive fire killed at least 67 people in the congested historic part of the capital city.
The fast-moving fire swept through adjoining apartment buildings and chemical warehouses in Old Dhaka's congested Chawkbazar area on Wednesday night, killing 67 people and injuring several others, the latest such deadly blaze in the country.
The fire was triggered when a gas cylinder of a parked pickup truck exploded, which razed surrounding vehicles and the flames then quickly spread to five buildings, including a community centre where a wedding party was on, in the narrow Chawkbazar alley.
A four-storey building ‘Wahed Mansion' that suffered most damage had a dozen stores for perfumes and plastic goods. The fire spread rapidly due to the multiple chemical godowns that were situated in the area.
Large amount of canisters stored inside several buildings “became like bombs” amid the massive spreading fire, according to the investigators of a panel formed after the incident.
Earlier, Industries Minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun said storage of chemicals had nothing to do with the fire started by a gas cylinder explosion. But the probe team disagreed.
“Of course there were lighter-fluid refill canisters inside the buildings. There were many other chemicals besides. All these inflammable materials catalysed the spreading of the fire,” Lt Col SM Zulfikar Rahman, a director of the Fire Service and Civil Defence, was quoted as saying by the bdnews.
“Perfume bottles were refilled here as well. These exploded and became like bombs during the fire," he said.
Rahman is part of a three-member probe team formed by the fire service authorities. They have been given a seven-day deadline for their report.
So far five committees have been formed to investigate the fire.
The fire service investigators also told reporters that chemicals were stored in the buildings without permit. Building codes were violated and there were no fire-extinguishing equipment in the neighbourhood.
Among the 67 killed, 24 were found at the bottom of the only staircase of Wahed Mansion. Rescuers found the charred bodies of the dead victims mangled together, including women and children.
Storing large amount of inflammable chemicals in the densely-populated part of the capital became a contentious issue after a similar blaze in Nimtali left 120 people dead in 2010.
Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader while addressing media on Friday after visiting the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, “After the Nimtoli incident in 2010, the government had evacuated some of chemical factories and storehouses from the area. But these businessmen are always coming back, re-establishing the factories which contain highly flammable materials thus risking the lives of thousands.”
"The prime minister has instructed Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) to immediately relocate the chemical factories and warehouses operating here," he added.
When asked about the deadline regarding the relocation process, Quader said: "We are yet to set a deadline for the relocation of all kinds of chemical shops and warehouses from this densely populated area. But it will happen soon."
Meanwhile, one of the victims' family has filed a case for causing death by negligence.
The case accuses the two sons of Hazi Abdul Wahed, who owned one of the five buildings damaged by the fire, and 10-12 unnamed individuals, Deputy Commissioner of Lalbagh Police Mohammad Ibrahim said.