In April 2009, Julekha Begum, a single mother, lost everything when a fire swept through the Shah Ali Bagh slum. Then she sheltered herself and her two kids in a tent-like structure made of jute sheets and gradually built a house by working in a garment factory and borrowing loans over the next one year. But it was only to be lost to another fire four years later.
Julekha, 33, is one of around 200 families who lost all belongings to yesterday's fire at the slum in the capital's Mirpur-1. “It took away everything from me again. I don't know how I will recover this time,” said the shell-shocked woman.
At least 200 shanties and 20 shops were burnt to ashes in the blaze that broke out around 12:30pm and lasted an hour and a half. The 2009 fire rendered 55 families of the slum, populated by garment workers, domestic helps, rickshaw-pullers and street vendors, homeless.
Yesterday's fire took place only three days after the devastating Jhilpar slum fire in Madhubagh, which killed a child and turned some 374 families homeless.
The Mirpur-1 fire also engulfed around 30 more houses of the adjacent staff residence of the city corporation. Twelve fire engines doused the blaze.
Fire officials said the fire originated from a stove from a house in the slum where around 350 families lived in tin-roofed concrete houses. They did not have gas and water supplies and used earthen burners for cooking, said the victims.
Jesmin Begum, who was cooking at her house when the fire started next doors, said seeing the flames, she shouted and tried to douse it with few other women. “But it was fanned by breeze and went beyond our control in no time,” she told The Daily Star.
At least 20 people sustained minor injuries while trying to save their belongings. No major casualties were reported.
During the 2009 fire, the slum houses were built with tins. “After that, we rebuilt our homes with bricks and kept water in drums to fight fire. But we could do nothing this time too,” lamented Mohammad Jasim, a private car driver.
Mohammad Ismail, treasurer of a co-operative society of the slum dwellers, said the 1 acre and 17 decimals of land belonged to the state-owned National House Authority and the inhabitants did not have to pay any rent.
The story of Laizu Begum, 32, is about a family that suddenly slid to misery from solventcy. She worked hard to become an electrician alongside her husband and built a grocery and an electronics shop toiling over the last 15 years. All her belongings were gone in an hour. “Nobody will understand how much labour I and my family had to put for this,” she said.
Deputy Commissioner of Dhaka district Shaikh Yusuf Harun said they victims would be temporarily sheltered in a nearby school building. He announced that they would distribute Tk 3,000, a blanket, and 20kg of rice among each of the affected families today.