Most witnesses say the fire originated at the three-storey building owned by couple Moni Akhter and Mohammad Hasan.
Their neighbour, a 60-year-old woman named Haoa Bibi, said she had seen a masked man run away from the building and get on a motorcycle.
Haoa Bibi said she woke up around 3am on Thursday hearing her grandson crying before the commotion started.
“When I was feeding the child, suddenly I saw fire on top of my neighbour Moni Akhter’s three-storey tin-shed house,” she said.
“Just bit a later, I heard someone shouting fire,\ and then I clearly saw a masked man quickly pick up his motorcycle and go away in the direction of the Shia Mosque,” Haoa added.
‘Door locked from outside’
Mohammad Hasan’s brother Sujon Ahmed, and his wife Nur Nahar Akhter were inside the building that night.
Sujon told the Dhaka Tribune they were sleeping on the first floor of the building.
Around 3:15am they were woken by something falling on them and they saw fire on the wall.
“We immediately rushed to the door downstairs but it was locked from the outside,” said Sujon, a lift technician.
Asked if he could think of any reason why anyone would want to lock them inside a burning house, he said they did not have enemies that would want to kill them.
‘Someone set the fire because it would not have been so intense unless something highly flammable like petrol had been used’
Moni reiterated her brother-in-law’s claims.
“We have no enmity with anyone,” she said.
Asked where her family was then, she replied they were at the house of one of her husband’s friends in Katasur area.
Moni said Sujon and his wife came out of the building in a bad condition as the door was locked from the outside.
“It took them some time to get out and they were injured,” she said.
In the last three months, three other fires have caused substantial damage to two other slums in the city, Korail and Saat Tola. Residents of those slums have alleged that the fires were arson.
The fire in Bashbari slum affected around 800 people from 221 families who were living on a three bigha land.
Fire Service or police have not yet determined the reason behind the fire or its point of origin.
Residents of the slum said this was the fifth fire there.
Haoa Bibi said she could not think of a reason why anyone would want to set fire to the slum. Most of the land is owned privately and Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) owns a small part.
Nazma Begum, one of the victims of the fire, claimed she was certain someone had set the fire because it would not have been so intense unless something highly flammable like petrol had been used.
Abdur Rahim, who owns four rooms in the slum, said the owners of the land, 11 people in total, had told the slum-dwellers a few years back that a case was running at the court to resolve ownership and after that they would be given some time to leave the land.
“Nobody has recently asked us to leave the slum,” he said.
There were no troubles or clashes here, so the residents were in the dark as to why anyone would want to burn the place down, he added.
Fire Service and Civil Defence Officer-in-Charge Enayet Hossain told the Dhaka Tribune the origin of the fire could not be ascertained yet. A three-member probe committee was formed under Fire Service Deputy Director (Dhaka) Somendra Nath Biswas.
DNCC Ward 33 Councillor Tarequzzaman Rajib refused to make any comment about whether the fire was a criminal act.
“I hope the actual reason will be revealed in the Fire Service investigation,” he said.
Replying to a query about Haoa Bibi’s statement, the ward councillor said: “It is a possibility. Different kinds of people come to the slum.
“A clash and legal battle between sons of late Lat Miah and another group of locals has been going on for some time,” he added.
Replying to another query, he said the city corporation has no initiative to expand the adjoining road to the slum, although the DNCC is also an owner of a portion of the slum.
Rajib further said that after he heard of the fire he at first arranged a temporary shelter and some food for the residents. Private hospitals and NGOs were contacted. A medical team worked there during the crisis and Dhaka Wasa sent water for the slum people.
He said after contacting with Dhaka district administration he had ensured that Tk3,000 and 30kg rice would be provided to each affected family. The compensation will be provided today at 10am.