At least 5,000 shanties burnt to ashes in a fire that originated at a slum known as Shialbari Basti at Rupnagar of Mirpur in the capital on Wednesday.
Residents of the slum at Jheelpar Ta Block of Rupnagar said that the fire originated around 9:30am when the residents, mostly garment workers and day labourers, went out for work.
They said that fire burnt all their material belongings to ashes as the fire spread quickly and continued for more than four hours.
Agitated slum dwellers vandalised a vehicle of fire service alleging that they reached to the spot too late.
Fire service deputy director (operation and maintenance) Dilip Kumar Ghosh said that the fire-fighters faced difficulties to reach the spot for severe traffic on road and narrow entrance to the slum.
He said that 25 fire-fighting units equipped with 150 fire-fighters brought the fire under control around 12:30pm.
‘No casualty was reported as rescue operation still going on,’ he told New Age around 7:00pm.
Dhaka North City Corporation slum development officer Md Anowar Hossain Bhuyan said that according to a slum survey in 2017, the corporation found 2,000 families living in 7,000 shanties at the Ta Block slum.
The number of residents in the slum was doubled in the past two years as several multi-storied bamboo made houses were also was found at the slum.
National Housing Authority sub-divisional engineer Md Nizamul Hoque Mazumder said that the slum was set up illegally on the land of National Housing Authority.
The housing authority acquired the 20 acres land in 1972-73 and since then it was illegally occupied by local musclemen.
All utilities including water, gas and electricity lines were found at the slum. Authorities concerned said that the slum dwellers enjoyed illegal gas and electricity.
A resident of the slum Nurul Islam, also manager of Sazu Madbor who owns 96 houses in the slum, said that the fire originated near the Rajanigandha Shopping complex and spread rapidly.
A garment factory worker Panna Begum, mother of four children, said that she had been living in a room of the slum for the last five years.
‘I couldn’t save anything as I was in factory and my family members were also at their workplace,’ said Panna, who hails from Netrakona.
She said that everything she owned including cash Tk 25,000, two beds, a fridge, some ornaments, a showcase and two sound boxes also burnt with her daily essentials.
Like others, Panna suspected that the fire might be an act of sabotage attempted to evict them from the area.
A hoarding of the National Housing Authority was seen in front of the slum that read the site was for construction of flats for low and middle-income people.
The housing authority said that they had no immediate project or plan of housing at the site but put the hoarding to inform people of their ownership of the land.
Dilip Kumar Ghosh said that a four-member probe committee was formed to estimate the damage and find out how the fire broke out. The committee was asked to submit report by 10 working days.
He said that the fire-fighters faced acute crisis of water to douse the fire.
He said that the fire also spread to a nearby six-storey building from the slum and the fire-fighters brought it under control immediately.
Rickshaw-puller Ekdil Hossain, who lives at the slum for the past 10 years with family, said that he has no option but living under the sky as all his belongings burnt to ashes and he had no relative in Dhaka.
Local member of parliament Elias Uddin Mollah visited the slum and announced to arrange food and shelter for the homeless people at a nearby government primary school.
Repeated incidents of fire in slums were recorded in last two years in the capital.
On August 16, another fire broke out at Chalantika Slum at Mirpur. In another fire, 200 houses were burnt and 30 people were injured at a slum in Baunia Beribadh on December 27.
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