Late Wednesday night a fire broke out in a mixed-use building. The ground floor housed flammable chemical materials where the fire originated from. The other floors were designated for residential use, resulting in people being unable to escape.
The old Chawkbazar district has narrow streets and buildings that are very close to each other, making extinguishing the blaze difficult and the fire to spread further. Firefighters fought for more than five hours to put out the fire.
Chawkbazar is a hub of chemical business and local perfume factories, though authorities had banned the storage of chemical goods after a deadly fire in 2010. A week prior to the fire, authorities announced a campaign to identify illegal chemical business in old Dhaka. The lack of safety regulations was highlighted in 2013 when more than 1,100 people died.
Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence stated that they could not comment on how the fire spread or why it started until an investigation. However, Police Chief Javeb Patowary stated that the flames were fuelled by pick-up vans carrying gas cylinders exploding.
Moin Uddin, a van driver said, “I can only remember a large sound and a shockwave. I was thrust out from my van and fell in the road. The left side of my body got burned”.
As a result, victims also included people in nearby restaurants and shops, including members of a bridal party, and people walking in the street.
Many have been injured and are in critical condition. The number of victims is expected to rise as the search continues through the damaged buildings.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her shock and conveyed her condolences to those affected and their loved ones.