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Ten Thousand Homeless After Massive Fire Rages Through a Bangladeshi Slum

Many of the shanties were empty at the time of the blaze, as residents left the city to visit their families for Eid.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
People gather at a rooftop to watch the fire that broke out at a slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 16, 2019
All images via Reuters

At least 10,000 people have been rendered homeless after a massive fire raged through a slum in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. Thousands of shanties were destroyed in the blaze, which started late Friday evening in Dhaka's Mirpur neighbourhood and razed about 2,000 mostly tin shacks, Al Jazeera reports.

Fire services official Ershad Hossain said it took firefighters several hours to get the fire under control, eventually quelling it on Saturday. Several people were injured but nobody was killed, according to local authorities, and most of the homes were empty as people had left the slum to celebrate the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha with their families in other parts of the country.


"Otherwise, the damage would have been bigger," local police chief Golam Rabbani told Agency French Presse.

Flames engulf a slum after a fire broke out in Dhaka

Those who were still in the slum were forced to look for shelter in crowded makeshift camps at nearby schools, which were also closed for the week-long holiday. Municipal official Shafiul Azam told AFP that authorities were trying to find permanent accommodation for the victims, but in the meantime they were "providing them with food, water, mobile toilets, and electricity supply."

An investigation has been launched into the initial cause of the blaze, but local publication The Daily Star reported that the fire was exacerbated by illegal gas lines.

“We found illegal gas connections in the slum when we were conducting search operation,” said Rezaul Karim, assistant director of the Fire Service and Civil Defence in Dhaka. “The gas was supplied through plastic pipes. The plastic pipes melted in the heat, releasing the gas and helping the fire spread faster to adjacent shanties.”

Firefighters attempt to extinguish a fire that broke out at a slum in Dhaka

Experts say fires are frequent in Dhaka, mostly due to lax safety measures, according to SBS. Building fires throughout the densely populated city have claimed the lives of at least 100 people so far this year. In 2012, a fire swept through a nine-storey garment factory near Dhaka, killing 111 workers; and in 2010 a fire in the district of Nimtoli killed 123 people.

Al Jazeera journalist Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from Dhaka, described the fire as "absolutely devastating".

"Most of the people are trying to salvage whatever they can," he said. "Many of them had been living here for 20 years. A lot of these people work in the garment factories, some are rickshaw pullers, some people are day labourers whose life savings were in the shanty homes where they lived."

Slum dwellers are seen gathering near their shelters after fire burnt them out in Dhaka

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