Fire again at city's BSEC Bhaban
A fire at Bangladesh Steel and Engineering Corporation (BSEC) building in the capital's Karwan Bazar burnt the offices of the daily Amar Desh and two other private firms yesterday.
No casualty, however, was reported in the third fire incident since February 2007 at the building that houses offices of around 30 private institutions, including two television channels -- Ntv and Rtv.
Most of the offices were closed since it was a weekend. Roughly 150 people were inside the building when the fire started and all of them managed to come out unhurt.
Fire officials said they received a phone call around 11:48am which informed them that the storeroom of the vernacular daily located on the 10th floor of the 11-storey building had caught fire.
In just seven minutes, several fire engines reached the spot and started dousing the flame. After around two hours' operation, 21 firefighting units managed to extinguish the blaze.
The fire did not spread to other floors, said Brig Gen Ali Ahmed Khan, director general of Fire Service and Civil Defence.
Zahurul Amin Miah, deputy director of fire service, said the middle section of the 10th floor was completely destroyed. Some rooms on the edges of the floor were damaged by the heat and smoke caused by the fire.
About 100 firefighters, assisted by police and Rapid Action Battalion personnel and volunteers, took part in dousing the blaze. Traffic was curbed along Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue on which the building stands.
The blaze also damaged some transmission equipment on the rooftop, putting Ntv and Rtv temporarily off-air. Apart from the daily's office, the chamber of barrister Tanjib-ul-Alam and a garment accessories office were also damaged.
A fire in the building killed four people and injured more than 30 in February 2007. In December the same year, another fire on the building's ground floor was reported but there was no casualty.
Abbas Ali Hawladar, a peon of the Amar Desh, was the first to detect yesterday's fire and the last to come out of his office.
"Our newspaper was supposed to move to a new office in Niketon today. Around 10 people, including Amar Desh staff, an electrician and some labourers, were pulling down furniture, air conditioners and other equipment," he told this correspondent.
"Suddenly I heard a sound from the storeroom. The room was locked. Around 10 minutes later, I saw flames through the opening between the ceiling and the wall. We called in the storekeeper who had the keys to the room. After unlocking the room several minutes later, we tried to douse the fire using handheld fire-extinguishers and water. But we failed."
When it became hard for them to breathe due to increasing smoke and heat, they climbed down the building using the fire exit, he added.
The building had only one fire exit and a staircase, which firemen said are not enough.
After the 2007 fire, experts made a number of recommendations, including installation of at least two fire exits and auto ventilation system in the centrally air-conditioned building.
“But we didn't see any auto ventilation system. If it is in place, black smoke belches out. This negligence could have led to casualties if all the offices were open,” said a senior firefighter engaged in yesterday's operation.
Some fire safety gears, like internal hose pipe and extinguisher, were there but not all of those were maintained properly and so, could not be used yesterday, he added.
Some firemen said they didn't see any smoke alarm or sprinkler either.
BSEC Chairman Imtiaz Hossain Chowdhury, however, claimed all the floors were well-equipped with fire safety equipment. “It was an accident. The fire spread because of sheets of paper in the newspaper office,” he told journalists at the spot during the incident.
As for the cause of the fire, firefighters suspected that an eclectic short circuit during the shifting of Amar Desh office equipment might have started the flame. However, the exact cause can be known after the investigation, they said.
Two five-member committees -- one by the BSEC and another by Fire Service and Civil Defence -- were formed to probe the incident.
Visiting the spot in the afternoon, State Minister for Home Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said investigation was on to see whether the Amar Desh authorities had taken adequate fire safety measures.
Industries Minister Amir Hossian Amu, BNP's acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Ntv Chairman Mosaddeque Ali Falu also visited the building.
AMAR DESH'S ALLEGATION
“This was not a fire under normal circumstances," Syed Abdal Ahmed, executive editor of the daily, told reporters following the fire.
"Around 500 of our journalists have been living in hardship after the government sealed-off our press and locked up our editor Mahmudur Rahman,” he said, demanding proper investigation into and compensation for the incident.
The Amar Desh is now functioning online only as the government sealed off its press in April 2013.
In a statement in the evening, BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul alleged that the fire was a "sabotage" to completely destroy the daily. He blamed the government for the incident.