Vol. 5 Num 976 Tue. February 27, 2007  
Front Page

Roaring inferno at Karwan Bazar
3 killed, 50 injured; first time chopper rescue bid; dozens of offices including ntv, Rtv completely gutted

Three people died and at least 50 were injured as a devastating fire swept through the 11-storey Bangladesh Steel and Engineering Corporation (BSEC) Bhaban in the city's Karwan Bazar yesterday morning.

Over a thousand people were evacuated as massive rescue efforts including the first-ever airborne rescue operation went on throughout the day.

According to witnesses and employees of offices in the building, the fire might have originated in one of two offices--Bengal Carpet or Jamuna Oil Company Ltd--on the first floor around 10:10am.

It soon spread to other floors due to the absence of effective fire extinguishers.

The home ministry formed a committee led by Fire Service and Civil Defence director general to probe the fire.

The multi-storey building in the teeming commercial district houses a number of media outlets including ntv, Rtv, and the daily Amar Desh.

The three who died were identified as Maksuda Begum, 40, Jyotsna Begum, 50, and Aftabuddin Mollah, 55. Both the women jumped from the fifth floor trying to evade the flames. The injured include office workers, firefighters, and some others who volunteered to fight the fire.

Thousands gathered on Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue and watched the blaze raging on for hours. They shuddered at each risky step taken by the evacuees and cheered every successful escape from the state-owned building in flames.

Earlier, as the inferno spread across the floors, panic-stricken office workers rapped frenziedly on the windowpanes while many headed to the roof.

The fire brigade officials claimed they received the first call at 10:35am and sent a fire engine to the scene within the next 15 minutes. But at that time, they did not have enough hoses or water sources to tame the fire.

Major Siddique, who went all the way up to the roof around 2:45pm, told The Daily Star that the building itself had a number of fire hazards. Only one staircase and faulty fire extinguishers--all raised the spectre of higher death toll.

Inhaling fumes of the fire, staffers on the first and second floors crowded the window ledges seeking a safe descent to the ground.

The firefighters then hung ropes from the first and second floor for the trapped ones to get down. Several people were injured in the process.

As black smoke invaded the area, those who work on the third, fourth and fifth floors jammed the windows ledges, waving their shirts or whatever they could find in a desperate plea for help.

In desperation, a large number of male workers slid down the power cables hanging loosely by the building. As the electricity was not yet cut off, some of them received electric shocks and sustained burn injuries.

Hundreds of people who were either working at the BSEC Bhaban or who happened to be there at that time, helped the firefighters rescue those trapped inside. They also rushed the injured to the hospitals and clinics.

They did great especially in rescuing the bulk of the first-, second- and third-floor staffers when the fire brigade men were still toiling through heavy traffic to reach the spot.

As the smoke billowed higher and higher, the ones shut in on the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th floors began to lose their nerve, one of the evacuees later said.

With four choppers, two snorkel fire engines and a turntable ladder (TTL), the troops, firemen, the police and pulled off some daredevil feats that kept the death count to three as of last night.

The roof got crammed with people as the fire leapt upwards. An army helicopter arrived around noon but could airlift only a handful as people scrambled to get on the chopper.

Warrant Officers Aziz and Akbar of Bangladesh Air Force landed on the rooftop to set up the fire brigade's only turntable ladder around noon.

They instructed some 200 women, children and men stranded on the roof how to safely climb down the narrow ladder from the height of 150 feet.

They all reached the ground safely by 2:50pm. Minutes before a fire tunnel burst through the ninth floor window and came frightfully close to the ones swinging onto the ladder.

Meanwhile, a group of firemen defied the blistering flames to rescue a good number of office workers trapped on the second, third and fourth floors.

As the smoke thickened, at least 30 people remained stuck precariously on the windowsills that could not be reached by the normal fire brigade ladders. So, the firemen used two snorkel fire engines to get them down--one or two at a time over three hours.

During that time, firefighters struggled to rescue two ntv staff stranded on the eighth floor even with the help of the snorkel fire engines.

As the onlookers feared for the worst, Major Imran ran the risk of taking a bamboo-ladder on the small crane platform and had the two brought to safety.

Three people were rescued by the firemen from the 11th floor at 3:15pm, five hours after the fire started.

The flames were brought under control at around 5:20pm, according to the fire brigade.

BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia yesterday urged the caretaker government to investigate the devastating fire at BSEC Bhaban that also housed ntv and Rtv.

She visited the charred BSEC Bhaban at Karwan Bazar around 9:30pm yesterday.

Rtv and ntv officials apprised Khaleda Zia of the entire situation during her visit.

Khaleda also went to Dhaka Medical Collage Hospital (DMCH) where 10 people were receiving treatment for severe burn injuries they received in the fire. She enquired about their condition.

BNP leaders Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and Khandaker Delwar Hossain were among those who accompanied Khaleda.

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As Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue was covered in black smoke, it was lit up with the rare courage of men who came forward to put up a massive rescue effort to evacuate over 1,000 people from the burning building.

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President Iajuddin Ahmed and Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed have expressed deep shock at loss of life and property in a devastating fire at Bangladesh Steel and Engineering Corporation Bhaban in the capital
Trapped people climb down a fire service ladder as raging flames engulf the BSEC Bhaban at Karwan Bazar in the capital yesterday. PHOTO: STAR