Illegal gas connections via plastic pipes helped Friday night’s fire spread faster, razing almost the entire slum at Mirpur’s Chalantika, fire service officials said.
The authorities, however, were yet to find the cause of the fire.
“We found illegal gas connections in the slum when we were conducting search operation [yesterday]. The gas was supplied through plastic pipes. The plastic pipes melted in the heat, releasing the gas and helping the fire spread faster to adjacent shanties,” Rezaul Karim, assistant director of the Fire Service and Civil Defence in Dhaka, told The Daily Star.
Many locals said the same when the correspondents visited the area yesterday.
Abdullah Al Amin, a local pharmacy owner, said the entire slum had the illegal gas connections running through plastic pipes instead of metal ones.
Besides, many slum-dwellers used gas cylinders, which exploded during the fire to make things worse, he added.
According to fire officials, several deadly fire incidents earlier took place at the slum because of the defective gas supply lines. The illegal and risky gas connections remain a serious threat to people and households as the quality of distribution lines and the way they were installed fall far below standard.
Galvanised Iron (GI), plastic pipes and even rubber pipes were being used for gas connection. Some were precariously hanging overhead.
Locals allege that syndicates run by some ruling party men with the con-nivance of unscrupulous Titas Gas employees steal gas from the main transmission and distribution lines of the company.
The Daily Star contacted Titas Gas Managing Director Mir Mashiur Rah-man several times over the phone. But he didn’t respond.
Asked, Director (operations) of Titas Gas M Kamruzzaman Khan said that he does not know about the illegal gas lines and that local Titas Gas workers in the area would know about it.
Firefighters began a search operation at the slum yesterday morning, during which they found there were combustible substances in the shanties.
Meanwhile, a three-member probe committee was formed yesterday to investigate the slum fire. The committee has been asked to submit a re-port to the fire service headquarters in this regard within 15 workdays.
The committee comprises deputy director (ambulance) Abul Hossain as its head, assistant director (operation) Abul Hossain as member secretary and deputy assistant director (Mirpur Zone) Newaz Ahmed as member.
LIVING ON THE STREETS
Most of the slum dwellers spent the night on the streets and in the open space of nearby Public Works Department (PWD) office premises.
Around 100 people suffered minor injuries while escaping the fire and took primary treatment from local pharmacies.
The DNCC has set up a temporary primary-treatment booth yesterday morning where 41 people took treatment, mostly for cuts sustained while trying to escape the fire in a rush, till 2:00pm.
Soheli Begum, who lives in the slum, said the fire originated from the northern side of the slum and took some time to reach the other end, where she resided.
“I thought the fire would not come here. But it engulfed everything in a few minutes. I couldn’t save anything,” she said in despair.
She added they did not have an exit and so they had to escape after breaking a wall.
Many residents of the shanties were seen coming to the site in the morn-ing to find anything sellable out of the ruins, in order to buy daily necessities.
The DNCC and some volunteers provided food for the slum dwellers at Bangabandhu Bidyaniketon School located nearby, where some of the victims have been taking shelter for the time being.
‘DO A FAIR PROBE’
Multiple versions surfaced about the cause of the fire. Some suspect short-circuits while some others suspect an act of sabotage. Officials, however, are still in the dark about it.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir demanded a fair and neutral investigation into the fire as such incidents are on the rise.
He visited the spot yesterday around 12:00pm.
Talking to reporters after the visit, Fakhrul also urged the government to rehabilitate the victims and provide them with compensation.
“Fire incidents at city slums have seen a rise these days, hitting the des-titute hard. So, a neutral probe body needs to be formed to look into the matter,” he said.
The BNP leader also said stern punitive actions must be taken if any-body’s involvement in the fire incident is found.
Visiting the fire-ravaged area, Gonoforum President Dr Kamal Hossain yesterday urged the government and social organisations to come forward in aid of the victims.
“Following the fire, thousands of people are living under the open sky without food, shelter and clothes in a dengue-hit city. I call upon the government and the social organisations to immediately stand by them,” he said.
He voiced deep concern over the repeated fire incidents at different slums.
Researcher and writer Syed Abul Maksud also visited the area.
After a visit yesterday, Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Mayor Atiqul Islam promised all kinds of assistance to rehabilitate the victims.
Fire Service and Civil Defence Assistant Director Rezaul Karim said as many as 3,000 families have been affected in the massive fire.
“There were 500 to 600 shanties in the slum. We managed to save only some of those,” he said, adding that they have enlisted 300 victim families so far.
However, local MP Elias Uddin Mollah said around 1,200 shanties were affected by the fire.
Replying to a query, he said he had heard that a ruling party man owned around 750 shanties at the slum and all were burned to ashes.
The fire broke out in the 35-year-old Chalantika slum around 7:22pm on Friday. After a six-hour long effort, 24 firefighting units doused the blaze around 1:30am.
The firefighters rescued four injured people and took them to hospital.
Friday’s blaze left thousands of slum dwellers homeless. Most of them are low-wage earners, including garment workers, rickshaw-pullers, hawkers, house maids and day labourers.
Most of the families went to their hometowns to celebrate Eid. Many re-turned to find only ashes where their homes once were.