The fire broke out in a four-storey building behind the Shahi Mosque at Churihatta around 10:30pm Wednesday and spread to four other buildings in a grim reminder of the deadly 2010 Nimtali fire.
Rescue work was wrapped up at 1pm Thursday, after 15 hours of effort. At least 37 fire-fighting units worked to douse the flames in the congested location.
The blaze was highly difficult to control because of flammable chemicals that were stored in several buildings, said AKM Shakil Newaz, director of Fire Service and Civil Defence. The fire became less visible after water was sprayed from helicopters in the morning.
Fire service officials said 70 body bags were sent to the morgue at Dhaka Medical College Hospital. But doctors there counted 67 bodies, after piecing together body parts.
“Some of the bags contained only parts. Considering that, the total number of dead maybe 67,” said Prof Shohel Mahmood, head of Forensic Medicine at the hospital.
The fire started at the four-storey building behind the Shahi Mosque, which is at the risk of collapsing due to damage. It is owned by one late Wahid Chairman, according to locals. From there, the fire spread to Rajmoni Restaurant and three other buildings in the narrow alley.
Chawkbazar's Churihatta Mor before a deadly fire razed through the neighbourhood on Wednesday night. The four-storey building bearing a portrait of Hazi Abdul Wahed was among five buildings damaged in the fire.
The ground floor of the building, where the fire originated, had several shops. The first floor was being used as a warehouse for plastic goods, cosmetics and perfume. Some families lived on the upper floors, according to residents.
The fire from the building almost instantly caused an electric transformer to explode, which set ablaze several cars parked on the alley. The alley was packed with people because of a wedding ceremony that was being held in a nearby community centre.
“No matter what caused the fire, it spread to the buildings on both sides of the alley because of the chemicals stored on the first floor,” said one Sharif. At least five buildings were burnt, said the Fire Service officials.
A person called Hafiz was looking for three of his relatives at around 3.00am at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
“My niece, her husband and their two children were walking along the road. I found their elder son with parts of his body burned. I am looking for the others but couldn’t find them at the hospital,” he told bdnews24.com.
There were shops on the pavement in front of the mosque and a fruit store in front of Anas Hotel. Saidur Rahman, a worker in Anas Hotel heard the transformer explode, which took out the power supply but he managed to come out of the hotel using the torch in his mobile phone, he told bdnews24.com.
It was hard for fire fighters to get their equipment into the congested neighbourhood, said Fire Service and Civil Defence Director General Ali Ahmed. Also, the flammable materials in the shops and warehouses caused a quick spread of fire, he added.
An investigation panel has been formed to identify the reason behind the fire. Nine years ago, chemicals in warehouse caused a fire at Nimtali in Old Dhaka, killing more than a hundred people.