At least 11 people were killed as a devastating fire razed a slum and some of its adjoining tin-shed homes in the capital's Hazaribagh early yesterday.
The victims -- six children and five women -- were trapped and burned alive in a bathroom and a kitchen where they had taken shelter, witnesses said.
More than 15 people were also injured and about 700 shanties and 12 tin-shed houses were burned down in the blaze that originated at a rickshaw garage at Boubazar slum around 2:45am.
Fire fighters were still investigating the cause of the fire, but locals said it might have originated from cigarette butts, mosquito coils or a kerosene stove in the garage.
The shanty is home to about 3,000 low-income people, all of whom have been affected somehow or the other.
Just minutes after it broke out, the fire engulfed the nearby houses after coming in contact with some kerosene drums, which had been kept for sale. Thirty shops, two bakeries, five rickshaw garages and a mosque were also burned while five adjacent buildings were partly damaged, added the witnesses.
Seventeen fire fighting units from seven stations doused the fire after two and a half hours of hectic efforts.
The dead are Munni Begum, 25, her two-year-old daughter Meem; Surya Begum, 26, her six-year-old daughter Julia Akhter; Helena Begum, 40, her eight-year-old daughter Aklima and three-year-old grandson Sakib; Sokhina Begum, 55, her 12-year-old granddaughter Moyna Akter; Anwara Khatun, 60; and Abdullah, 7.
The injured were taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
President Zillur Rahman, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Khaleda Zia expressed their shock at the loss of lives.
The rights body Ain O Salish Kendra in a press release also offered "deep condolences" to the victims' families.
The Dhaka district administration handed out Tk 20,000 to the family members of each deceased for funeral.
THE DEATH TRAP
Abdur Razzak, a 30-year-old imam at a nearby mosque, usually gets up around 4:00am to administer the morning prayers. But yesterday he woke up abruptly an hour before on hearing a "huge hue and cry."
As he came out of his room adjacent to the mosque, he saw flames rising about 40 feet high and gushing towards the mosque from the other side of the road, which is about 20 feet wide.
“I immediately entered my room, held my wife by her hand and dragged her out of the room,” he said. “Within moments the fire engulfed the mosque and my room.”
But all were not as lucky to have been able to escape in time.
The 11 dead were tenants of a two-story tin-shed house, where 46 families lived.
As the fire began to spread, all the tenants ran for their lives through a common exit. But the 11 victims, being women and children, could not run as fast. So instead of getting out of the house, they took shelter in a bathroom and a kitchen, witnesses said.
But soon the blaze, gushing through the exit, engulfed the bathroom and the kitchen and burned them alive.
Some people, mostly men and youths, escaped the fire by jumping over the boundary walls. Others cut through their bamboo boundaries and leapt outside.
Locals alleged the fire fighters took more than an hour to reach the spot, causing a delay in the rescue operation. But Brig Gen (retd) Abu Nayeem Md Shahidullah, director general of Fire Service and Civil Defence said, his force reached the place in time and tried hard to douse the fire.
Meanwhile, the fire brigade formed a three-member committee led by deputy director (operation) Bharat Chandra Biswas to investigate blaze.
News agency UNB adds: The prime minister gave 6,000 pieces of blankets, 3,000 pieces of saris, 3,000 pieces of three-pieces, 3,000 pieces of sweaters, 3,000 pieces of shawls and 409 pieces of lungis for those affected in the fire.
The relief materials were handed over to the deputy commissioner of Dhaka for distribution among the victims.