Skyscraper on fire in Dhaka lights up the issues of infrastructure and safety standards in Bangladesh.
A fire tore through the 22-story commercial FR Tower in Dhaka Banani commercial district March 28. Intense flames and thick black smoke poured out of the building, killing 25. This was not the first time a fire like this ravaged the country of Bangladesh.
Workers screamed for help from the windows. At least five people used ropes to lower themselves down the side of the building while burning debris fell around them; some slipped from their rope, bounced off utility wires and fell to the ground. At least seven people jumped off the burning tower to their deaths. Navy and air force experts aided 19 firefighter units and 21 fire trucks to battle the blaze, while one person dangled from a helicopter hovering over the road as dark, thick, toxic smoke rose.
Volunteers joined to help as bystanders prayed Allahu Akbar, or “God is great”. At least 95 emergency services and helicopters joined the fight, along with people trying to rescue from the road. There were more than 74 people admitted to hospitals around Dhaka, and more than 100 ambulances parked around the building.
Authorities launched an investigation into the cause of the fire. Rezaul Karim, minister of public works and housing, said a murder case will be filed against those responsible for the tragedy. “Definitely this is murder, it is not an accident,” Karim said. “Legal action will be taken against those responsible for violating the building code, no matter how powerful they are.”
The minister for disaster management and relief, Enamur Rahman, told Al Jazeera that there was little fire-fighting equipment inside the building. If proper fire extinguishing systems were in place and fire drills were conducted for the buildings, deaths could have been avoided. Fire department director Shakil Newaj told AFP news agency that “there were no sprinklers while fire exits existed only in name.” The only two exits in the building were too narrow and blocked by obstructions. Julfikar Rahman told Reuters, “if the building had proper fire exits, people would have been able to come out.”
Dhaka development authority is investigating how the owner, who had permission only to build 18 stories, extended them to 22. Although the search has since been completed and the building has been handed over to the police and law enforcement for investigation, dead bodies are not out of the question, as more may be discovered. This is not the first time a tragic event like this has occurred in Bangladesh, and without improving safety standards, this will not be the last.
Photo courtesy Al Jazeera
In fact, an immense inferno in Dhaka’s old quarter killed approximately 70 people and injured 50 others Feb. 21. The cause was illegal chemicals stored in an apartment building that exploded and set fire to five buildings and streets nearby. This included a warehouse of deodorant and granular plastic that fueled the inferno. As a result, it took more than 12 hours to control the blaze. Authorities are still trying to close down illegal chemical stores and warehouses in apartment buildings since February’s disaster in the old city. An estimated 1,000 chemical factories reside in the old city, 850 of which are illegal, according to the Bangladeshi environmentalist group Poba. Still, illegal chemical factories still thrive and are fuel to the fires while people continue to die as a result.
In 2017, a boiler explosion in a packaging factory near the capital sparked a fire that killed 24 people. The residents’ escape and the arrival of rescuers were slowed by the narrow and long lanes too restricted for fire engines to go through.
Inspectors hired by Western clothing brands discovered safety problems at every Bangladeshi factory they visited. These inspections commenced as part of an initiative launched after an eight-story garment factory collapsed, killing more than 1,100 workers and injuring 2,500 others in 2013. Because not all the factories in Bangladesh were inspected, the ones not inspected and therefore not improving their safety standards may be the next to go up in flames.
In 2012, a fire swept through a nine-story garment factory near Dhaka, killing 111 workers. Further investigation found that it was caused by sabotage, and managers at the plant prevented victims from escaping.
In 2010, an electrical transformer exploded and sparked a fire in Nimtoli, one of the most densely populated districts of the capital. It was fueled by chemicals and other flammable products in shops. The impossibly narrow lanes and staircases of old buildings delayed the response of fire service equipment entering the area. Lives could have been saved if there were no obstacles in help’s way, but instead, 123 people were killed.
Upon further investigation, experts said inspections on buildings in the city frequently found fire exit stairs blocked with stored goods and exit doors locked. The fire that took place in the FR Tower in Dhaka Banani was no exception. If safety standards do not improve, history will repeat itself; fires will ignite, extinguishing flames in victims’ eyes.