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Rupnagar slum fire: Hundreds of shanties gutted, thousands homeless

  • Published at 10:32 am March 11th, 2020

Third incident of fire in Rupnagar slum area in less than a year, Fire Service forms probe body

Hundreds of shanties were razed to the ground, leaving thousands homeless, in a massive fire at Shialbari side of Jhilpar slum, located in Rupnagar area of Mirpur 6 in Dhaka, on Wednesday.

After the fire broke out at around 9:45am, some 150 fire fighters of 25 fire-fighting units worked for nearly three hours to put out the flames at around 12:30pm.

No casualties were reported as of yet, said Lt Col Zillur Rahman, director (operations) of the Fire Service and Civil Defence.

“The cause of the fire will be known after investigation,” he told reporters at the scene. 

The fire department has formed a committee to investigate the cause of fire.

Hundreds of the slum’s low-income residents lost their belongings and shelters.

Locals said many of the residents could not save anything as they were out for work when the fire broke out. 

Electricity and gas supply were also cut off in the slum soon after, in an effort to stop the fire from spreading into adjacent buildings.

Local people, along with members of Fire Service, try to douse the fire that gutted Shialbari Jhilpar Slum in Rupnagar area at Mirpur 6 on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 | Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Lt Col Zillur Rahman said fire fighters struggled with their operation to put out the blaze, due to water shortage and narrow lanes around the slum.

Locals as well as students of Bangladesh University of Business and Technology (BUBT), located near the slum, voluntarily assisted the fire fighters.

This is the third incident of fire in the greater slum area of Rupnagar in seven months.

On January 24 this year, fire broke out on the Chalantika side of Jhilpar slum in Rupnagar, razing at least 377 rooms to the grounds and making no less than 1,000 people homeless. The fire killed one slum resident.

Earlier on August 16 last year, another fire destroyed several thousand homes on the Chalantika side. No death was reported, but many were injured.

‘Not an act of sabotage’

Visiting the scene later on Wednesday afternoon, local lawmaker Md Elias Uddin Mollah told reporters that some 20,000 people lived in 2,000 shanties in the Shialbari side of the slum.

"The affected slum-dwellers have taken shelter at the adjacent Islamia Government Primary School and they are being looked after," he said. "If necessary, we will move some of them to other adjacent schools."

When asked about the recurring fires at Shialbari and Chalantika sides of Rupnagar Jhilpar slum, separated by a small water body, Elias, elected from Dhaka 16 constituency which covers Rupnagar, brushed off allegations that the fires were acts of sabotage.

Local people, along with members of Fire Service, try to douse the fire that broke out at Shialbari Jhilpar Slum in Rupnagar area at Mirpur 6 on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 | Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

"The government owns the land and the people will stay here [at the slum] until they are rehabilitated," he told reporters.

He further said the law enforcement agencies would look into the matter. 

Regarding an assault on Fire Service personnel and their vehicles on Wednesday, Elias said slum residents got angry after hearing a rumour that fire fighters were spraying kerosene, instead of water, to fuel the fire.

"The law enforcement agencies will look into that too," he added.

Losing everything, again

Papiya, a garments worker who lives in Shialbari with her mother, was sitting on the side of the road near the slum, both crying, which this reporter approached them.

Aftermath of a fire that gutted Shialbari Jhilpar Slum in Rupnagar area at Mirpur 6 on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 | Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

“I was at work in the garments factory near the slum. My supervisor told me to hurry home all of a sudden, saying a fire had broken out in the slum. I was in shock,” Papiya told Dhaka Tribune.

Kulsum, Papiya’s mother, said: “I saw the fire spreading fast. I somehow got out of the room. I couldn’t bring any of our belongings out with me.”

When the mother-daughter duo were finally able to go where their home was, they found that everything had burnt to ashes.

“Now we have nothing left, except the clothes on our back,” she said. 

There are many like Papiya who lost everything in the fire because they were out working.

Johura, who makes a living by sewing at home, said her room was in the middle of the slum.

She barely managed to get out of the slum to save herself, but could not save the only source of her income – her sewing machine.

Members of Fire Service seen trying to douse the fire that gutted Shialbari Jhilpar Slum in Rupnagar area at Mirpur 6 on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 | Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Hundreds of people lost all there belongings in the fire, and are now homeless. Many were sitting near the site, in distress. Some were crying, while some were still rummaging through the debris to see if anything could be salvaged.

Committee formed for investigation

The Fire Service and Civil Defence has formed a five-member committee to find the exact cause of Wednesday’s fire at Shialbari side of Jhilpar slum. 

Nur Hasan, deputy director (ambulance) of the Fire Service, has been appointed as the chairman of the committee, Fire Service headquarters Duty Officer Ershad Hossain told Dhaka Tribune on Wednesday evening. 

The other members of the committee are: Assistant Director (Planning) Naimul Hasan Bhuiyan, Deputy Assistant Director Anwar Hossain, Senior Station Officer (Mirpur) Md Anwar Hossain, and Warehouse Inspector Md Golam Mostafa.

Additional reporting by Rumi Kawser

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