By Robin Gomes
A devastating fire ripped through densely packed buildings in a centuries-old quarter in
Bangladesh's capital between Wednesday and Thursday night, killing at least 81 people, reports said.
The fire in Dhaka's Chawkbazar area was mostly under control on Thursday after more than 10 hours of frantic firefighting efforts. About 50 people were injured, some critically burned.
The Chawkbazar district whose origins can be traced back to the Mughal era 400 years ago, is crammed with buildings separated by narrow alleys with residences above shops, restaurants or warehouses on the ground floors.
Building fires are relatively common in densely populated Bangladesh, owing to lax safety regulations and poor conditions.
The fire broke out at Chawkbazar when many residents were sleeping.
Reports say the fire started at a chemical warehouse on the ground floor and then raced through three other buildings. Many people were trapped, unable to escape the flames. Victims included also people outside the buildings.
Witnesses and police said gas explosions helped fuel the blaze. Some reports suggested many of the fatalities were pedestrians, shoppers or diners who died quickly as several gas cylinders exploded, and the fire engulfed nearby buildings very quickly.
Outside the gutted store, the road was strewn with charred vehicles, pieces of still-burning metal and plastics and hundreds of cans of body deodorant.
The death toll is likely to rise further because some of the injured people were in critical condition and