Four reasons cause 71pc of fire

An aerial view shows firefighters trying to douse a fire that broke out in a popular clothing market known as Banga Bazar Market in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 4 April, 2023, in this screengrab obtained from a social media videoReuters

A total of 51 people lost their lives in a fire at the factory of Hashem Foods Limited in Rupganj, Narayanganj on 7 July 2021. Later the Directorate of Fire Services and Civil Defense revealed that the fire was caused by an electrical fault in the factory building. The fire originated from a wire of an exhaust fan on the ground floor of the building.

According to the fire service, the main cause of fire in the country is electrical faults. In 2022, 38 per cent of the 24,102 fire accidents were caused by electrical faults.

The fire service has found several other reasons for fire. According to their accounts, the second major cause of fire is discarded bidis and cigarettes. More than 16 per cent of fire accidents occurred in 2022 because of this. About 14 per cent of fires occur from electric, gas or clay stove. Faulty gas supply lines cause significant number of fire. In 2022, slightly more than 3 per cent of fires occurred from faulty gas supply lines.

In 2022, a total of 71 per cent of the blazes occurred from electrical faults, discarded bidis and cigarettes, stoves and faulty gas lines. Apart from this, children playing with fire, burning embers, open-flame lamps, outburst of flames in vehicle accidents, and so on cause fire. A total of 19 reasons were identified. However, fire service said, the cause of fire in 4091 cases is unknown or unspecified.

In 2022, the fire service recovered the 85 bodies. The fire service does not keep an account of those who die while undergoing treatment in the hospital. The fires caused loss of about Tk 3.43 billion.

The causes of fire are coming to the fore again after several major fires in Dhaka. Among them, 2,961 shops of four markets were ravaged by fire in Bangabazar complex on 4 April. Apart from this, 791 shops of Mahanagar Market, 59 shops of Banga Islamia Market and 34 shops of Banga Homeo Complex were damaged. An investigation by the Dhaka South City Corporation revealed that the fire originated from either burning cigarette stubs or mosquito repellent coils.

At least 250 shops were gutted in a fire at Dhaka New Super Market on 15 April. The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Former Fire Service Director (Operation) and Disaster Management Specialist Major (retd) AKM Shakil Newaz told Prothom Alo that his observation is that most of the fires in houses start from stoves. Electrical fault is the major reason for fire in various commercial establishments including factories.

Cause of electric fault

A teacher of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) and two current and former officials of the fire service identified a few reasons for the electrical fault. They said that the main reasons are the transmission of more electricity that the capacity of the cables, use of low-quality cables and equipment, negligence and lack of regular supervision.

Shakil Newaz, the former director of the fire service, said that if electricity is transmitted more than the capacity of the power cable, it expands considerably due to the heat. Then the plastic coating over the wire melts and causes sparks. The fire starts from there. He said that the use of air conditioners (AC) with electric fans spikes in extreme heat which requires more power flow than the capacity.

Power cables and equipment are among the 229 products on the list of mandatory products by the standards regulatory body Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI). In other words, it must be ensured that these products are manufactured and imported in accordance with the standards set by BSTI.

Riazul Haque, deputy director of BSTI's Certification Marks (CM) Branch, told Prothom Alo that BSTI's approval is mandatory for the production and marketing of electric cables. However, some unscrupulous traders use the logos and seals of various companies to produce low-quality cables and sell those in market. In most cases it is difficult to differentiate fake cable from real one. BSTI conducts regular operations against those involved in such wire production.

Many people are installing air conditioners at home due to the heat wave that has been sweeping over the country since 2 April. However, it is hard to know and check the capacity of wires used in buildings. Most people live in rented houses. They do not know whether the electrical equipment used in the building is up to the standard or not. In markets and commercial buildings, the shopkeeper or staff have no clear idea of the fire safety issues.

BUET head of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) Department, Aynal Haque, told Prothom Alo, that expert advice should be taken while installing electric cables and equipment in any institution including homes. Expert advice must be sought before installing any electrical appliances, especially those require high power. He suggested to consult an engineer or expert over the electrical management during the construction of the building.

16 fires in Dhaka in a month and a half

In the last one and a half month (from 1 March to 18 April) fire service responded to 16 such fire incidents in Dhaka. Seven of these have known causes. Four occurred from electrical faults. Two of the fires were caused from the accumulation of gases leaked through faulty lines. One of the explosions occurred in front of Dhaka Science Laboratory and another in Siddikbazar in the first week of March. As many as 32 people were killed in it. Apart from this, a fire broke out from discarded cigarette in a building in Rampura, the fire service said. They have not yet completed the investigation of the incident of Bangabazar and New Super Market.

Many accidents occur due to power supply equipment. The fire service says that a building caught fire after a transformer exploded in front of the Wari police outpost in Dhaka last Sunday night. No one was injured in this incident. Earlier on 1 April, three people died in a fire after a transformer exploded at Sweeper Colony near Joykali temple in Wari.

Dinomani Sharma, deputy director of the Dhaka region of fire service, told use of air conditioner due to scorching heat wave increased a lot. Due to this, the flow of electricity is much higher than normal time. In such situations, accidents may occur due to electrical fault if low-quality wire and equipment are used.

People familiar with the issue say that there is no alternative to government supervision, use of quality products and awareness to avoid accidents. There should be arrangements for extinguishing fire in all buildings.

*This report, originally published in Prothm Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat