The inhabitants of Dhaka's largest slum on Thursday once again saw a devastating fire reduce their hard-earned properties to rubble.
Sources said the fire originated around 2:15am at a food shop in Korail slum, which sits on 19 hectares of government land beside the upmarket Gulshan area in the north of the capital and is home to an estimated 200,000 people.
Talking to the Dhaka Tribune, some of the victims said they first saw two shanties beside Boubazar Mosque burning. Following an announcement from the mosque, hundreds of people began fleeing the flames with their belongings as the fire started to engulf the adjoining shanties.
Fire services officials said around 500 shanties were burnt in the fire, while the affected slum dwellers claimed that the number was closer to 3,000. However, no serious human casualties were reported in connection with the incident except injuries received by some of the slum people and rescuers when trying to douse the blaze and relocating the properties.
Md Selim, a victim, said he found his grocery shop completely burned down along with goods worth over Tk7 lakh. Many women and children were seen crying standing on the debris from their gutted shanties.
“My school dress was burnt to ashes. How will I go to school now?” said an eleven-year-old schoolgirl, Sithi.
Another victim, Jarina, 50, said she lost all her belongings and demanded that their landlords repair their houses.
As fire is a recurring theme in Korail, the slum dwellers alleged that it was premeditated arson intended to force them from the land as the government was mulling to set up a hi-tech park on the land.
“It is an arson attack by vested quarters to drive us away from the land, paving the way for the government to implement its plan,” said Abdus Sattar, a shopkeeper at Boubazar.
Echoing Sattar, another inhabitant, Mohammad Khokon alleged: “Someone might have set fire to the slum as we live on a government land.”
However, Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and Fire Service and Civil Defence refuted the allegations of premeditated arson attacks. DNCC Mayor Annisul Huq visited the spot and said it was difficult for them to say how the fire originated before an investigation.
“Firefighters have worked very hard to extinguish the fire. The city corporation is, too, working to determine the amount of damage caused by it. Before these tasks are done, making any comment on the incident will not be sensible,” he said.
Shomoresh Kumar Biswas, deputy director of Fire Service and Civil Defence in Dhaka, said although the fire was put out, they were yet to ascertain its cause.
After the mayor’s visit, DNCC Ward 19 Councillor Mohammad Nasir toured the area and issued assurances to the affected people that the necessary assistance will be offered by the city corporation.
In the evening, Fire Service and Civil Defence Assistant Director Masudur Rahma said his teams were still on the spot: "They are helping the affected people in the cleaning work".
Meanwhile, Brac set up a medical camp to provide first aid to the injured people and the police control rooms to maintain security and stability there.