Bangabazar burnt to the ground
A massive fire ripped through the capital's Bangabazar Shopping Complex yesterday, burning down at least 2,931 shops full of clothes and ruining the livelihood of several thousand traders just weeks before Eid.
The fire, reported at 6:10am, spread rapidly in the crammed market while plumes of dark smoke blanketed the nearby neighbourhoods.
Goods stored in the adjacent Anexco Tower, Banga Islamia Market, and Banga Homeo Market were also gutted and a police barrack next to the Police Headquarters was damaged, firefighters said.
The cause of the fire remains unclear, but firefighters said faulty electric wires could be a reason.
Six firefighters were among the 16 injured from the fire and smoke.
The flames were under control by afternoon, but piles of clothes were still smouldering around 8:30pm, said Dino Moni Sharma, deputy director of Fire Service and Civil Defence.
Owned by Dhaka South City Corporation, the 21,250 square feet Bangabazar Shopping Complex consists of Bangabazar Market, Gulistan Market, Mohanagar Market, and Adarsha Market. The three storey markets are built with corrugated iron sheets and wood.
The disaster struck four years after the Department of Fire Service and Civil Defence declared the shopping complex risky because of its lack of fire safety and asked people to be cautious.
Devastating fires gutted the shopping complex in 1995 and 2004.
Yesterday, the first team of firefighters reached the scene at 6:12am. As a morning breeze kept spreading the flames, more fire engines joined the efforts. Luckily, the fire service headquarters is close to the market.
After six and a half hours, the fire was brought under control by 48 fire engines, firefighting units of the army, navy, air force, and BGB.
As their water tanks ran empty, the firefighters pumped water from a pond at Shahidullah hall of Dhaka University while an air force helicopter sprayed water from above.
Fire service Deputy Director Dino Moni Sharma said a five-member probe committee was formed to find out what caused the fire. The committee was asked to submit a report in seven working days.
The city corporation also formed a committee to find the cause and report it in three days.
There were risky electric wires, a transformer on the second floor, and a very large amount of flammable materials, Sharma said, adding that the narrow alleys made the first responders' jobs harder.
Brig Gen Main Uddin, director general of fire service, said the crowd of onlookers and thick smoke at the site were an impediment to the firefighting efforts.
Hundreds of people thronged the area after the fire broke out. Many were seen going live on Facebook while others were taking selfies. The nearby streets and Mayor Hanif Flyover from Gulistan to Chankharpool were closed to traffic.
The fire brought down the 999 national emergency service, which has an office in the area, around 10:15am. Officials resumed the service after 7:30pm.
With Eid only two weeks away, Shahadat Hossain, the owner of a shop, said he borrowed Tk 4 lakh and just spent a total of Tk 10 lakh to stock up.
"It all went up in smoke. I have nothing left," said Shahadat, struggling to hold back his tears.
Only a handful of store owners could partially save their goods. A vast majority of them lost everything.
In the afternoon, Renu Begum, a middle-age woman was seen crying near what used to be the three shops owned by her sons.
She said her family would surely slide into poverty because nothing could be saved from the shops.
[Mohammad Jamil Khan and Refayet Ullah Mirdha contributed to this report.]