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Bangladesh building fire kills 45, injures dozens

fire broke out in a multi storey building in dhaka
Volunteers and firefighters try to douse the fire out in the multi-storey building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, February 29, 2024. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

A massive fire in Bangladesh that raced through a six-storey building home to restaurants where many families with children were dining has killed at least 45 people and injured dozens, the health minister said on Friday.

Fire authorities said a gas leak or a stove could have caused Thursday’s blaze in the capital, which spread quickly after breaking out in a biryani restaurant, and was only reined in following two hours of effort by 13 units of firefighters.

Hospitals are treating 22 people with burn wounds, Health Minister Samanta Lal Sen told reporters.

“All 22 people … are in critical condition,” Sen said after a visit to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed shock and sorrow over the incident, ordering officials to provide swift treatment for the injured.

One survivor, Mohammad Altaf, recounted his narrow escape from the blaze that killed two colleagues.

“I went to the kitchen, broke a window and jumped to save myself,” he told reporters, adding that a cashier and server who urged people to leave during the first moments had died later.

Firefighters used cranes to rescue people from the charred building, said fire officials, who were still working to clear debris and stamp out any remaining embers.

Relatives gathered at the hospital early on Friday to receive the bodies of the dead, with some mourning outside the emergency department.

Doctors said most of the dead were killed by suffocation with others dying as they jumped off the building, which also houses some clothing and mobile telephone shops.

The fire could have originated from a gas leak or stove, said Brigadier General Main Uddin, a top fire service official.

“It was a dangerous building with gas cylinders on every floor, even on the stairs,” he told Reuters, adding that it had a single staircase, lacking an emergency exit and other safety measures.

The government has set up a five-member panel to investigate the incident.

The main opposition party blamed the government for the fire.

“Accidents and disasters keep happening as there is no rule of law,” Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the secretary general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) said in a statement.

“The government is not accountable to the people and that’s why anarchy prevails, many accidents occur and people lose their lives.”

Intense scrutiny of Bangladesh and the major global clothing retailers that manufacture there has helped prevent disasters in the garment sector since a fire in 2012 and a building collapse in 2013 together killed more than 1,200 workers.

But in other industries, mainly catering to the booming domestic economy and lacking equal emphasis on safety, hundreds of people have died in fires.

Fires are common in densely populated Dhaka, where many new buildings have sprung up, many lacking adequate safety measures. Fires and explosions have resulted from faulty gas cylinders, air conditioners and poor electrical wiring.

In July 2021, many children were among the 54 people killed at a food processing factory outside Dhaka, while at least 70 people were killed in a February 2019 fire that engulfed a centuries-old precinct.


What causes Bangladesh‘s major industrial accidents?

Hundreds of people have been killed in similar fires or other accidents in buildings servicing the booming domestic industrial and commercial sectors where adequate safety measures can sometimes be neglected.

Here are some of the major incidents of recent years:

June 2022: More than 40 people were killed and 200 injured after a fire broke out in a depot near the southern port city of Chittagong, in a blaze fire officials said could have been caused by a container of hydrogen peroxide as safety regulations were not followed.

July 2021: A fire killed at least 52 people in a food processing factory outside Dhaka that officials said was built without permission and lacked safety measures.

Feb. 2019: A fire killed at least 70 people in a building in old Dhaka with shops and a plastics warehouse on its two lower floors and homes on the three floors above that officials blamed on illegally stored inflammable chemicals.

Sept. 2016: At least 33 people were killed in a fire at a food and cigarette packaging plant in Dhaka, which officials said was probably triggered by a gas line leak and a boiler explosion.

Aug. 2016: More than 100 people were taken ill after inhaling gas that leaked from a fertilizer factory in Chittagong.

April 2013: At least 1,136 people died and hundreds were injured in the country’s worst industrial accident, when an eight-storey building near Dhaka home to five garment factories collapsed.

Nov. 2012: A fire at a garment factory in Dhaka that supplied global brands killed 112 workers and injured more than 150. Officials said the blaze was caused by a short circuit.

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