POST TIME: 22 February, 2019 01:07:12 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 22 February, 2019 11:49:04 AM
Gas cylinder blast cause of fire: Minister
Staff reporter, Dhaka

Gas cylinder blast cause of fire: Minister

Industries Minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun yesterday said the Chawkbazar fire was caused by an explosion of a LP gas cylinder and not by chemicals stored in a warehouse. “What happened here last night had nothing to do with the chemicals. It was a LP gas cylinder blast,” he said while talking to reporters in front of the burn unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH).

“A cylinder exploded while being delivered here and unfortunately the fire engulfed the electrical trans former nearby and also caused it to explode,” the minister said. The incident has nothing to do with the chemicals here, he reiterated.

However, the fire first broke out in Hazi Wahed Mension, a four-storey building beside the Shahi Mosque at Churihatta, around 10:38pm on Wednesday. It soon spread to four other buildings.  

After combating the fire for 17 hours, a group of fire fighters eventually managed to douse the flames at 3pm yesterday.

In total, 39 fire-fighting units worked to extinguish the fire that has claimed lives of about 67 people so far.

The blaze was very difficult to control because of flammable chemicals stored in several buildings in the area, said Fire Service and Civil Defence director AKM Shakil Newaz. Old Dhaka buildings are like explosives; an accident may happen any moment, said Shakil Newaz.

The fire department faced problems in dousing the blaze in Churihatta, he observed.

“Old Dhaka has to be restructured; otherwise, there may be bigger accidents in the future.”

This correspondent saw numerous plastic containers at the scene after the fire was put out.

The Dutta Road was full of plastic bitumen. At least 40 motorised and non-motorised vehicles have been gutted in this area.

The crowded area also had several restaurants with gas cylinders. Many of the nearby buildings housed stores and warehouses with combustible materials.

“It’s still not known how the fire broke out. We heard a sound and then a big fire devoured the whole area,” said Sayed Aslam, a local.

The presence of the inflammable materials on the second floor caused the fire to spread to nearby buildings, he added.

The fire first spread from Wahed Mension to three neighboring structures. Among them was a restaurant called Rajmoni Hotel. Next, two other buildings in the narrow alley caught the flames.

Several witnesses said the fire broke out after the explosion of a gas cylinder of a four-wheeler. But some others traced the blaze to electric poles in the vicinity.

“The ground floors of four buildings, where the fire had originated, housed several shops. The first and second floors were being used as warehouses for plastic goods, cosmetics and perfumes. Some families lived on the upper floors,” said Mainuddin, a van driver.

There was also a community centre in one of those buildings, said Md Jewel, another local.

“The place was full with a crowd and many vehicles. Everyone began to run to and fro after hearing the blast. Some of them died on the scene after being burnt,” he added.

Md Bashar Hossain, a resident of Haider Baksh Lane, said: “There were a few gas cylinders in front of the Rajmoni Hotel. They caught fire after the transformer exploded. The flames spread across the buildings on the street,” he said.

Outside the barricade put up by law enforcers in the area, Nasrin Sultana was standing with a photograph. She was asking every person about the whereabouts of her father.

Sultana’s father has been missing since the time the fire broke out.

“He went out of the house to meet a friend near the Shahi Mosque. Since the fire broke out, we couldn’t contact him,” she said.

Sultana was among many others who had been eagerly waiting to learn the new of their near and dear ones.

Pointing to a gutted cell phone shop, witnesses said two brothers who used to run the shop were sitting inside the booth when the fire broke out. “They lowered the shutters of the shop and stayed inside with hope of saving themselves. But fire engulfed the whole shop,” said one of them.

Shariful Islam, a fire inspector, said: “We recovered 20 charred bodies from Dutta Road. The bodies were packed in bags and sent to the DMCH. There was devastation everywhere.”