Bangladesh surveillance video shows devastating fire impact

February 23, 2019
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People look at a charred vehicle in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. Police on Friday were seeking up to a dozen suspects in connection with a fire in the oldest part of Bangladesh's capital that killed scores of people. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu )

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — The explosion was fast and furious.

On a busy street in Chawkbazar in the oldest part of Bangladesh’s capital, restaurant cooks stood outside preparing roti bread on flat, circular tandoor grills as people whizzed by on motorcycles, auto-rickshaws and on foot.

Suddenly, flames consumed the scene in surveillance-camera footage local media published Saturday of the deadly fire in Dhaka this past week. The blaze killed at least 67 people and injured 50 others.

Earlier Saturday, Bangladeshi Prime minister Sheikh Hasina visited some of the dozens of people injured in the fire, while investigators said they had found a huge stock of flammable materials stashed in the basement of the five-story building where the blaze began.

Hasina told reporters outside a burn unit of the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital that she wants all the chemical warehouses removed from the oldest part of Dhaka, a 400-year-old area cramped with apartments, shops and warehouses.

Police said the fire began in a five-story building housing highly flammable chemical products.

“It’s regretful that still there are chemical godowns in Old Dhaka despite repeated drives against them,” Hasina said.

Government zoning regulations prohibit industrial activities in residential buildings. A government effort last May to clear warehouses and makeshift stalls blocking narrow alleyways in Chawkbazar and neighboring districts was met with protests by business owners and residents.

Obaidul Quader, general secretary of Hasina’s ruling Awami League party and a Cabinet minister, said in Chawkbazar on Saturday that there would be “no compromise” in removing the warehouses from the area and that “a new journey has started through learning lessons from previous mistakes.”

Debashish Bardhan, a deputy director of the Fire Service and Civil Defense, told The Associated Press that investigators discovered a cache of combustible chemicals like drums full of dye pigments and rolls of plastic sheets on Friday in the basement of the building, and that the fire could have been far more devastating if it had spread to that area.

Bardhan, a member of one of the fire investigation committees, said they were still collecting evidence from the scene to determine how the fire started and why it spread so quickly.

Police have said that they are seeking up to a dozen suspects in connection with the fire and could charge them with negligence.

Relatives of a 19-year-old killed in the blaze filed a separate case with police accusing the owners of a building where chemical products were stored and that caught fire of “death by negligence, sabotage and damage of goods,” said Abdul Halim, a police investigator in Chawkbazar. He said no arrests had been made.