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A 'Big Bang,' Then an Entire Street in Flames

Fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh, kills at least 81
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 21, 2019 8:21 AM CST
Locals and firefighters gather Thursday around buildings that caught fire late Wednesday in Dhaka, Bangladesh.   (AP Photo/Rehman Asad)
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(Newser) – A centuries-old section of Bangladesh's capital was struck by a fire that started Wednesday night, leaving at least 81 dead and an entire street gutted. Per the New York Times, fire officials believe the blaze in the Chawkbazar neighborhood of Dhaka began in a "mixed-use" building and that the cause may have been a compressed gas cylinder often used for cooking, according to witnesses; the fire then quickly spread to other buildings. A local business owner tells the AFP he heard a "big bang," then saw "the whole street, which was jam packed with cars and rickshaws, in flames." A local fire official says that many of the bodies found in the neighborhood, which is known for its buildings crammed right next to each other on narrow streets, "are beyond recognition."

Making matters worse was the fact that the ground floor of the building where the fire started was used to store chemicals (an apparently rampant problem in the city), which only served to fuel the flames, per the BBC. It adds that many of the victims were trapped by the fast-moving inferno. The AP notes the fire is a reminder of the area's overcrowding, as well as building owners who try to flout zoning and safety codes. Local planning experts say that when government officials do try to enforce codes, they're often bribed or otherwise resisted. Experts also cite the major contrast between the city's south side, where the blaze occurred, and its north side, which is home to office buildings and garment factories and upheld as a sign of progress. The BBC notes hundreds of people have died in Bangladesh building fires in recent years. (Read more Bangladesh stories.)

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