Multiple accounts of what caused Wednesday's fire at Chawkbazar have been put forth by different quarters.
Visiting the fire-ravaged area, Industries Minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun yesterday said a gas cylinder blast initiated the flames.
He also stressed the fire “had nothing to do with the chemical business” in the area.
“This is a gas cylinder blast. LP gas, which was being delivered to meet the [utility] gas shortage in the area…” he told reporters.
He added that those who have been blaming the chemical warehouses “have got a very wrong message.”
However, Brig Gen Ali Ahmed Khan, director general of the Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence, said the cause of the fire was not known yet.
He added that the inflammable perfumes and cosmetics that were in a warehouse on the second floor of the building caused the fire to spread. That was why it took hours to put out the blaze.
There are thousands of chemical warehouses in old Dhaka, most of which are in residential buildings. According to the fire service, only 2 percent of these warehouses have the city corporation's permission.
The minister told reporters that after a gas cylinder exploded, an electric transformer unfortunately caught fire.
“There was a warehouse of perfumes and cosmetics [in the worst affected building] but no chemicals…”
The fire left the five-storey Hazi Wahed Mansion almost completely charred.
Several firefighters, however, said they were yet to find any evidence suggesting that a gas cylinder had exploded.
Several locals said the fire might have started following an explosion near a pick-up.
Abdul Rahim Babul, a resident of the area, told The Daily Star that he had heard a loud bang while going home around 10:40pm. He thought the sound came from a pick-up.
“Within minutes, I saw small perfume bottles flying out of Hazi Wahed Mansion…They looked like firecrackers,” he said.
The roads in the area and the rooftops were littered with deformed spray cans of mostly deodorants, perfumes, air fresheners and hair sprays.
Throughout yesterday, people involved in the chemical warehouse businesses told reporters not to cite the warehouses as a probable cause of the fire.
“Why do you talk about chemicals being responsible for the fire? Say that it was a cylinder blast that caused the fire,” a man told The Daily Star.
The man didn't mention his name, but said he runs a warehouse.
However, many residents of the area said the businessmen were trying to deflect the attention from the chemicals, fearing an initiative to move the business from the area.
“By renting out flats to chemical businesses, the owners are turning the buildings into bombs,” said Mohammad Raju, a resident.
About moving the chemical hub out of Old Dhaka, the minister said the businesses had been there for generations and had developed their trade network.
“We can tell that we will make a decision very soon and move them,” he said.
Meanwhile, Security Services Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs formed a five-member committee to probe the fire.
Headed by Additional Secretary Pradip Ranjan Chakraborty, the committee includes DG of fire service, deputy commissioner, representative of Dhaka South City Corporation and deputy police commissioner of Lalbagh Zone.
The committee was asked to submit its report to the ministry by a week.
The industries ministry also formed a 12-member committee with Additional Secretary M Mofizul Haque as its chief to find out the cause of the fire, assess the losses and make recommendations to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, reports UNB.