The latest such deadly blaze in the south Asian nation broke out Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. local time (11:30 a.m. ET) in Dhaka’s Chawkbazar area, a district in old Dhaka with sprawling narrow streets and densely-packed buildings.
Throughout the night, firefighters battled the blaze, which is believed to have started when a fuel cylinder stored in a car exploded.
The fire then quickly spread across the area, engulfing a restaurant and five buildings, Ibrahim Khan, deputy commissioner of Dhaka Police told CNN. Two of the buildings were so badly damaged that police said there are concerns they could collapse.
Among the dead were customers of the restaurant who became caught in the fire, said Khan.
Inspector Morad Dul Islam from Chawkbazaar police station said that they do not yet have an estimate on the number of people injured but they are transferring them to nearby hospitals.
One of the structures served as a warehouse for a perfume company. Plastics and chemicals that were being stored to manufacture the perfume ignited in the blaze that rapidly tore through the area.
Khan said the fire is now under control.
“In the morning we were able to control the fire. The fire is now over,” he said.
Authorities began the process of identifying victims Thursday, as relatives waited at the Dhaka College Hospital for news of their loved ones.
“When we are able to search the whole building then we will know the exact numbers of victims,” said Lieutenant Colonel Zulfikar, fire brigade director.
The government said it would provide financial aid to the victims and their families, with 100,000 Bangladeshi taka (approximately US$1,190) announced for the families of fatalities and 50,000 taka for each injured person.
Built over 400 years ago, Chawkbazar is a commercial and industrial hub in the old city of Dhaka that’s known for its food. Over the past few decades its population has mushroomed with houses and apartments built on top of warehouses and factories over narrow, winding streets.
Mohammad Sayeed Khokon, Dhaka South City Corporation’s Mayor, said that earlier in the week, city officials had conducted a raid in the area and had tried to close the chemical warehouses.
“Just two days before this happened, our mobile court team initiated raids to close these chemical warehouses from this old part of Dhaka — just the past Monday!” Khokon said, adding that the city council is “fully committed to remove these chemical warehouses from old Dhaka.”
A tragic history of fires
Bangladesh has a history of fatal building fires, especially in factories where safety and structural standards have long been found to be inadequate.
That disaster spurred widespread criticism about the state of workers rights and safety in Bangladesh.