Chemicals fed the fire

Probe body says; cause still unknown

Two days after the devastating fire in the city's Chawkbazar, the actual cause of the blaze still remains unclear.

But one thing is sure, chemicals and flammable objects had fed the flames that almost gutted Haji Wahed Mansion and partly damaged three other adjoining buildings on Wednesday night, causing the fire to last longer, said exerts and members of a probe committee.

Some local landlords and traders who claimed to have witnessed the raging fire insisted that the blast of a cylinder ignited the flames.

However, they gave varied versions.

Some “witnesses” said explosion of a pick-up's CNG cylinder caused the fire while some others pointed out that the blast of an LPG cylinder at a restaurant next to Wahed Mansion triggered the fire.

According to another version, the blast of a car's CNG cylinder sparked the blaze around 10:30pm.

But experts viewed otherwise. While visiting the spot yesterday, they didn't find any evidence of cylinder explosion in the wreckage.

Also, morgue sources at Dhaka Medical College (DMC) said none of the victim's bodies bore injury marks from splinters.

Shamsul Alam, chief inspector at Department of explosives, “We have so far not found any sign of blast of a cylinder.”

It seemed that vehicles on the road were reduced to skeleton due to the fire. If it was an explosion, the vehicles would have been ripped apart, he added.

A fire service official said when an LPG cylinder is exploded in a residential building, its doors and windows get shattered, part of walls collapse, and even bodies of residents are torn apart if they stay closer.

“Such an explosion of a cylinder leaves marks of splinters on the walls. But nothing like that happened in the two restaurants,” he said preferring anonymity for the sake of the investigation.

Burnt containers of perfumes stored on the first floor of Wahed Mansion. Photo: Anisur Rahman, Palash Khan

Visiting the restaurant named Rajmahal, this newspaper yesterday found three LPG cylinders remained intact.

Two cars and two pick-ups were among the vehicles burnt in the fire. Such vehicles usually use gas cylinders, but The Daily Star saw that the CNG cylinder of a car was intact.

According to fire service officials, the other car was run on fuel.

The tyres of all the four vehicles were burned to ashes, but the rims of the wheels were found squeezed in heat.

Charred wreckages of vehicles are piled up for disposal. The Dhaka South City Corporation, with the help of fire service, is carrying out a cleaning drive. Photo: Anisur Rahman, Palash Khan

None of the pick-ups was found to have any cylinder.

Fire service officials said they didn't find any part of exploded cylinder.

Babu Gopal, owner of a pick-up which is blamed by some local traders for trigerring the fire, said his vehicle was run on diesel and was gutted in the fire when the driver was on his way to a filling station to refill it.

“Neither my pick-up had a CNG cylinder installed nor my driver was carrying any LPG cylinder,” he said.

Lt Col SM Julfiqur Rahman, director (training, planning and development) of Fire Service and Civil Defence, said each of the perfume cans exploded like a bomb and triggered the fire.

“Whenever we doused flames at a place and moved to another area, blaze occurred once again in the previous place because of the cans,” he said.

Julfiqur, member of a probe committed formed by Dhaka South City Corporation, also said they had to face difficulties to contain fire because of this.

Additional Secretary Pradip Ranjan Chakraborty, chief of the probe body formed by the home ministry, yesterday the committee would investigate the overall issues, identify the reasons behind the fire, and make recommendations.

“We will go to different persons and try to find out the reasons. We are here for this,” he told reporters after visiting the spot yesterday.

Ibrahim Khan, deputy commissioner (Lalbagh Division) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said they were yet to know the cause of the fire.

In the last two days, people involved in chemical business and homeowners told many reporters not to cite warehouses as a probable cause of the fire and requested them to report that blast of a gas cylinder triggered the blaze.

However, many locals said the businessmen were trying to divert the attention from the chemicals, fearing an initiative might be taken to relocate the storehouses from the area.