Although there was no electricity at the Hasina Market when a devastating fire broke out on Sunday evening, shop owners and the Fire Service believe that the fire was most likely caused by an electric short circuit as generators were running at the time.
Babul Khan, the general secretary of the market association, told the Dhaka Tribune that power had gone out during the nor'wester that raged through the city right before the fire broke out.
The market was also closed for May Day but a handful of shops in the periphery were open.
“But the generators were running. Some of the wiring is very old. We think it may have been a short circuit,” he said.
He said shop owners believed the fire started in or near one of the closed shops that stored either kerosene or some other flammable material.
Fire engulfed Hasina Market, a collection of wholesalers of household items, at Karwan Bazar Kitchen Market in the heart of Dhaka, right after a powerful storm on Sunday evening. Starting from 8pm, 26 Fire Service units fought the fire frantically for about two hours before it was brought under control.
Fire Service and Civil Defence DG Brig Gen Ali Ahmed Khan said the firefighters also believed the blaze could have started from electric sparks.
“There was flammable material in the corner where the fire started. Also, witnesses said a transformer explosion was heard sometime before the accident,” he said.
A four-member probe body headed by Zohurul Amin, deputy director of Fire Service Dhaka unit, has been formed to investigate the fire incident, said Ali Ahmed.
On the other hand, the association’s Senior Vice-President Ismail Hossain alleged that the Fire Service had not arrived in time to respond to the fire.
No water was carried by the units who reached the spot first. The fire spread to the entire market due to the negligence of firefighters, Ismail alleged.
‘Losses worth Tk100 crore’
Shopkeepers reported that almost all of their shops and goods had burned down in the fire and they were estimating a loss of roughly Tk100 crore.
They urged the government not to give token handouts to the shop owners but rebuild the affected shops and provide some means such as easy loans for the traders to get back on their feet.
Officials from Dhaka district administration were at the site of the disaster yesterday collecting information on how much damage the fire had caused.
Nurul Islam, project implement officer of Tejgoan Development Circle, told the Dhaka Tribune that the information would be submitted to the deputy commissioner of Dhaka district, after which decisions would be made on future steps.
Trader Babul Mia said all of his five shops in the market – one hotel and four wholesale department stores – had been been burned down.
“I do not know what to do now,” he said.
“Because of May Day all the shops were shut. There was nothing outside the shops. Now I am a street beggar. I have lost about Tk2 crore worth of goods. Where will I get the money?”
Several owners were seen crying in front of their burned down shops.
Mozammel Hossain Helal, owner of Mama Store, told the Dhaka Tribune that he had not only lost about Tk50 lakh worth of cigarettes, the fire had gutted the shop’s cash box, which contained Tk20-25 lakh.
“Last time a fire broke out at Hasina Market in 2001, the government did not help us with anything. So, I do not think that the government will help us now,” he said.
Market General Secretary Babul Khan said 180 shops out of 186 were destroyed in the fire. The losses were roughly Tk100 crore.
The association would be arranging a meeting soon and talk to all owners and traders to determine future course of action, he added.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal and Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Annisul Huq were on the spot on Sunday evening even as the fire was being put out.
The government would decide on compensation for the victims following the Fire Service’s probe report, Kamal told reporters. Mayor Annisul said Dhaka Wasa and the Power Division had jointly worked with the Fire Service to douse the fire.
Sheikh Md Maruf Hossain, additional commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said four platoons of police personnel were deployed to the spot to avoid any kind of untoward incident.
Organising Secretary Monjur Hossain said the market association was allocated the plot from Rajuk in 1986.
In 2000, the market won a case against the government that sought to return the property to state ownership.
In 2006, the owners signed a contract with a development company to build a multi-storey building there.
But because of a lack of reasonable progress, they cancelled the contract after 38 months. Currently, the market owners are embroiled in a legal dispute with the construction company over this contract.
Several signboards reading “Location for proposed multi-storey market complex, managed by: North Karwan Bazar Traders’ Welfare Association” can be seen around Hasina Market.
The government also has an ongoing project to move the entire Karwan Bazar kitchen market to three separate markets in Dhaka. Under that plan all wholesalers like the ones in Hasina Market are to be moved to a new city corporation market in Mohakhali by April next year.