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Could the Chawkbazar tragedy have been much worse?

  • Published at 11:43 pm February 22nd, 2019
WEB- Chawkbazar Fire
Fire-fighters and rescuers continue working at the site of the fire at Nanda Kumar Lane in Chawkbazar’s Churihatta area of Old Dhaka on Thursday, February 21, 2019 Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

The basement of Haji Wahed Mansion – the first building to catch fire in Chawkbazar on Wednesday night – housed flammable material that could have fuelled greater explosions and sent the death toll soaring past even the Nimtoli tragedy

Until Friday morning, authorities did not fully comprehend how much worse the Chawkbazar fire could have been. 

The basement of Haji Wahed Mansion – the first building to catch fire in Chawkbazar on Wednesday night – housed flammable material that could have fuelled greater explosions and sent the death toll soaring past even the Nimtoli tragedy.

A morning raid led to the discovery of stockpiled chemicals – flammable dye, deodorants, and perfumes – in the basement of Haji Wahed Mansion. Similar stockpiles were found in adjacent multi-storey buildings.

Fire Service and Civil Defence Director (Training, Planning and Development) Lt Col SM Zulfiqer Rahman said all the buildings that were affected in the fire had warehouses storing chemical materials. 

He said: “We found countless cans of body spray, deodorant, and lighter fluid in the buildings.” 

The fire service director warned that the tragedy – which has taken 67 lives – could have been much, much worse had the fire reached the basement warehouse.

Fire Service Deputy Assistant Director Saleh Uddin said: “The entire basement was chock full of chemicals. Thanks to the efforts of the fire fighters, the fire did not spread to the basements. If it did, then we would have had a bigger disaster on our hands.

“The building would have completely collapsed. We would have had a much more difficult time bringing the situation under control. We had an idea about the chemicals in the basement, so we deployed an extra team to focus on ensuring the fire does not reach it,” he added.

Keeping chemicals in places like these is completely illegal, the fireman said, adding: “We didn’t find any of the building owners. It is possible that they are in hiding.”

The Dhaka Tribune discovered containers, sacks, and cartons stacked with cans of flammable material. There were 20kg drums filled with textile dye.

Ratan, a local fire station officer who led the basement raid in search of possible dead bodies or survivors, said: “The basement was being used as a warehouse without any permission. It lacks proper ventilation and has just one entrance. If the fire reached it, the incident could have been much deadlier.”

Md Shamsul Alam, chief explosives inspector, said there were scores of sacks containing raw materials used to make printing ink.

He said: “Once these substances catch fire, they are more than capable of bringing down the house, and worse.”

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