Four Rohingyas, including two children and a woman, were reportedly killed and hundreds of others were injured in deadly fires that burned several thousand shanties at Balukhali refugee camp in Ukhiya, Cox's Bazar, yesterday.
The fire started around 4:00pm and firefighters almost doused it an hour later. But another wave of fire broke out shortly after 11:00pm and was still burning down shanties at the densely populated camp as of 12:30am, locals said.
Rohingya community leaders and officials told The Daily Star about the casualties but the authorities have yet to officially confirm the numbers.
"The administration will hold a briefing in the morning," an official said last night, requesting not to be named.
The fire reported around 4:00pm was the third in Balukhali camp in the last four days, locals said.
"At least one child has been admitted at a medical centre with 25 percent burns. There are some other injured too. Most of the people got injured while fleeing the scene," Health Coordinator Sarowar Jahan of the Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner's office, told this newspaper.
Mohammad Shamsudoza, additional refugee, relief and repatrition commissioner, said 1,500-2,000 houses were completely burnt down while 5,000-6,000 other houses were damaged.
"Two children got killed and many others injured," Rohingya community leader Jamal Hossain Lalu of Camp no-9/A-2 told our Cox's Bazar correspondent.
The camp-in-charge, police and fire service officials made no comments in this regard.
Reuters reported that a video shot by a resident showed a blaze ripping through the camp, with people scrambling to recover their possessions amid burning shanties and tents.
"Fire services, rescue and response teams and volunteers are at the scene to try to control the fire and prevent it from spreading further," said Louise Donovan, spokesperson for UN refugee agency UNHCR in Cox's Bazar, where refugees live in ramshackle huts.
Chattogram Fire Service and Civil Defence Headquarters Divisional Director Md Azizul Islam said, "Two burnt bodies were recovered as per the report from Cox's Bazar fire service officials as of 11:30pm."
"Due to poor cell phone signal in the camp area, the details of casualties or any update of the fire is not being reported over the phone," he said.
The official also said firefighters with fire engines from Cox's Bazar, Ramu, Chakaria, Ukhiya, Satkania, and Teknaf stations are trying to control the blaze.
APBn and police sources said the fires were raging at Camp-8 East, 8-, 9-, and 10- West.
Contacted, Mamunur Rashid, deputy commissioner of Cox's Bazar, told The Daily Star that he had yet to receive any report of casualties.
Offices of IOM PHC Balukhali, Turkish Hospital, and MSF were completely burned.
Over a million Rohingyas live in the camps in southern Bangladesh. The vast majority of them fled Myanmar in 2017 amid a military-led crackdown that UN investigators said was executed with "genocidal intent".
"The fire spread so fast that it caught our house before we understood what was happening. People were screaming and running. Children were also running," said Tayeba Begum, a volunteer of Save the Children.
The risk of fire in the densely populated camps is high, and yesterday's blaze was the largest yet, said Onno Van Manen, country director of Save the Children, Bangladesh.
"Just a couple of days ago, we lost one of our health facilities in another fire," he said.
The UNHCR said humanitarian partners had mobilised hundreds of volunteers from nearby camps for the support operation, as well as fire safety vehicles and equipment.
"So far the fire has affected shelters, health centres, distribution points and other facilities," Donovan said.