Fire incidents in Dhaka appear to be on the rise recently. The Directorate General of Family Planning warehouse was severely damaged in a fire on Sunday while another fire has been reported at BDBL building today (Monday).
From January to February, 1,845 fire incidents were recorded by Fire Service and Civil Defence all over Bangladesh as a result unplanned urbanisation and a lack of adherence to following the National Building Code when constructing new buildings.
The recent spate of fires erupting in the capital has raised questions if we were heading towards another incident like Nimtoli tragedy which killed over hundred people in 2010.
In less than two months, two incidents of fire have been reported in Dhaka’s Korail slum alone.
The Fire Service and Civil Defence authorities have identified around 400 buildings in Old Dhaka which house unauthorised chemical warehouses putting the residents at high risk of fire accidents.
Fire Service officials said there are many chemical warehouses in Old Dhaka and Tongi areas that are running without approval from the authorities concerned, nor do they have proper fire safety measures in place.
In order to find these warehouses, the department launched a survey on January 19 in Old Dhaka. Twenty-four Fire Service officials divided into four teams inspected different areas and identified 400 high-risk buildings, most of which are residential.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Fire Service Deputy Director (Operations) Debashis Bardhan said 98% of these warehouses have been established violating regulations set by the city authorities.
“They do not have proper safety measures and can cause major fire incidents anytime,” he added.
Asked why these warehouses have not been evicted yet, he said: “We cannot do that even if we want to. This eviction has to be done by police and the authorities concerned. We will submit our report at the government agency concerned. They will take action accordingly.”
Fire Service has plans to conduct the same inspection in Tongi soon.
Sources said the Fire Service surveyed Armanitola, Babu Bazar, Mitford, Shahidnagar, Islambagh and Chawkbazar areas, where they found the illegal warehouses that store highly combustible chemical compounds.
Locals also complained about having dangerous chemicals in the vicinity, saying they did not want a repeat of the horror caused by the Nimtoli fire incident seven years ago.
The fire, which originated at a chemical store in Nabab Katra locality in Nimtoli, Old Dhaka, killed 124 people and injured scores of others on June 3, 2010.
Locals said they had been trying to get the chemical warehouses move out of the residential buildings, but without success.
Most of these warehouse owners have been running business for years – in some cases, for generations – and do not want to leave the area. The building owners are also not keen on booting them out as they pay a lot of money in rent, the locals added.
Visiting the area, this reporter went to a warehouse named AP Storehouse in Armenian Street.
The warehouse does not have any trade licence nor a fire safety approval from the fire department, this reporter learnt. Around 100 workers were found working there.
When contacted, owner Mamun said he had inherited this business and his livelihood depended on it.
But when asked about his trade licence, he promptly left without answering.
Fire Service Director General Ali Ahmed Khan told the Dhaka Tribune that they had made a list of hazardous buildings in Old Dhaka and sent it to Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) and other authorities concerned.
DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon told the Dhaka Tribune that they had the list and the process to evict them from the area was underway.
Of 3,020 fire incidents reported in Dhaka last year, only 578 were investigated. Of these 578 investigations, only 12 reports were submitted to government agencies concerned and none were made public, according to Fire Service officials in the aftermath of the latest Korail fire.