Massive fire guts popular clothing market in Bangladesh capital

Thousands of garment shops burn down in the fire, dealing a significant blow to businesses weeks before the Eid festival.

Bangladesh market fire
A fire rages at a popular market for cheaper clothes in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka [Mahmud Hossain Opu/AP Photo]

A large fire has gutted thousands of shops at a popular clothing market in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, with shop owners devastated by the loss weeks before Eid, the Muslim festival marking the end of Ramadan.

Hundreds of firefighters and army personnel battled the inferno as it tore through the clothing market, turning it into a pile of ashes. The blaze was brought under control at 12:45pm local time (06:45 GMT) more than six hours after it started at Bangabazar Market early on Tuesday.

Several people have been injured but no deaths have been reported so far. Authorities were still trying to figure out the cause of the blaze.

(Al Jazeera)

D M Habib, an official at Bangabazar Shop Owners’ Association, told Al Jazeera that at least 3,000 shops, mostly made of tin and wood, were completely gutted in the fire.

“The market had readymade garment products worth hundreds of millions. Most of the shops had extra stocks as Eid is little more than two weeks away,” Habib said.

“I am unable to describe the massive loss all of us are incurring.”

Bangladesh fire
A firefighter runs to extinguish the blaze at the clothing market in Dhaka [Abdul Goni/AFP]

Most traders expressed grief and helplessness.

“I borrowed 1.5 million taka ($14,100) to buy Eid clothing,” one business owner said. “I have lost everything.”

Shop owner Akter Hossain and two of his staff were seen trying to bring out clothing stock from their burning shop while onlookers stopped them from going near the fire.

“I just invested around a million taka ($9,500) to stock new clothes ahead of Eid. All of those have turned into ashes. How will I ever recover from the loss?” a wailing Hossain told Al Jazeera.

Bangabazar, managed by the Dhaka South City Corporation, has a long history of fire hazards. According to official data, there were at least six small to medium fire incidents in the market in the past decade.

“The fire this time however is massive,” said Habib. “It reminds me of a fire in 1995 in which the whole market was burnt down.”

The market is a popular destination for cut-price Western fashion brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, selling clothes that were produced in the city’s garment factories but failed to meet export standards.

‘Lax monitoring’

The fire started at 6:10am (12:10 GMT) on Tuesday, local fire services official Rafi Al Faruk told The Associated Press news agency by telephone.

About 48 units of Fire Service and Civil Defence along with rescue teams from the army, police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Detective Branch (DB), and air force took part in the operation to contain the blaze.

Anwarul Islam, another fire service official, said they were yet to determine the cause of the fire.

Aerial footage showed hundreds of people watching the fire from a nearby overpass.

Fires often take place in commercial venues in Bangladesh because of lax monitoring and a lack of fire safety arrangements.

But conditions in the country’s huge garment industry, which has experienced major disasters including devastating fires in the past, have improved significantly over the last decade.

Faisal Mahmud contributed to this report from Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Bangladesh market fire
Firefighters work to contain a fire that broke out at a popular market for cheap clothing in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka [AP/Mahmud Hossain Opu]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies