Fire rages for six hours in popular Bangladesh shopping market

4/7/2023 11:57 AM

A fire which started in the early hours of Tuesday 4th April at 6.10am in Bangabazar Market, a popular clothing retail market in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, very quickly spread and engulfed thousands of shops as pre-Eid stocks went up in flames. Over 600 firefighters from 47 units fought to put out the blaze but were hampered by the lack of local hydrants in the area. Poor water access forced desperate local residents and shop owners to resort to using buckets in attempt to stem the flow of the flames, but their efforts were futile as the fire quickly spread to adjacent markets and left many of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods under clouds of black smoke.  

As the fire raged and shop owners watched as their hopes for a successful Eid shopping period went up in smoke, their desperation turned to rage and in some quarters rocks were thrown at firefighters for their failure to douse the flames in good time. As many as 450 police officers had to be deployed in order to maintain order and to stop looting.

There were reportedly no fatalities, although at least a dozen people were injured, including five firefighters. The fire is estimated to have caused 100’s of millions of taka in damage, as discounted high fashion brand clothes produced for European markets (which had failed quality checks), were all expected to fly off the shelves during Eid, but which now had been turned to ashes as part of the gutted debris that was once a thriving market.  

Lack of hydrants, failure to enforce building codes and safety regulations  

Firefighter Chief, Main Uddin commented that the high winds, ‘an enthusiastic crowd and a lack of water’ had made tackling the fire so much more difficult. He made the point that the timber and tin construction of many of the market’s small stalls had designated the area a fire risk since 2019, when a fire in Chawkbazar in Dhaka killed 70 people. He said that there had been repeated warning letters and demands for the government to more rigorously enforce its building codes and safety regulations. Uddin added that multiple letters and demands had been issued to shopkeepers and landlords since then, but it seemed clear that there had been no follow up.  At the time of the Chawkbazar fire, local architect Iqbal Habib had blamed the government for not acting on what he described as a ‘ticking time bomb’. Ishtiaque Ahmed, a professor of civil engineering at Bangladesh University claimed that there was a need for more meaningful action by the government in pursuit of accords between major retail brands, the unions and factories to safeguard the country’s $28 billion garment industry by creating a much safer environment.