58 markets inspected in three months, all found vulnerable to fire

Of the 58 shopping malls inspected in three months, nine were found to be highly risky, 35 risky and 14 are moderately risky

Fire at New Super Market

The Fire Service and Civil Defence department inspected 58 markets and shops in the capital in the first three months of this year. Their observation is all the shopping centres are at risk of fire. Of the 58 markets, nine have been identified as highly risky, while 35 are risky and the remaining 14 are moderately risky.

The nine highly risky shopping centres are – Gausia Market, Barishal Plaza Market in Fulbaria, New Rajdhani Super Market in Tikatuli, Alauddin Market in Lalbagh, Shakil Anwar Tower and Shahid Ullah Market in Chawkbazar, Sharif Market and Masha Katara 22 Market in Sadar Ghat and Rose Nil Teesta Market in Siddik Bazar.

Fire service director (operation) Lt. Col. Tajul Islam released the list at a press conference at the service’s headquarters in the capital’s Kazi Alauddin Road on Sunday. He said, it is fire service’s routine work to assess the degree of fire risk in the markets and shops in the city. But the list of fire prone markets and shops was not updated since 2019 for several reasons including the Covid pandemic. It has resumed. The Fire Service has visited 58 markets in past three months and found all of these markets to be highly risky.

Fire service director Tajul Islam said, the main reason of fire is carelessness. Most of the market owners do not comply with the rules. In many cases they flout the rules.

The building code is not being followed during building construction. In some cases, the original design is modified to expand the market. The fire service cannot force anyone if they disobey the law. Fire service can only request to ensure fire safety. The agency requested all to be aware to prevent fire accidents and also ensure construction of buildings in accordance with the law and fire safety.

From 2017 to 2019, the fire service inspected the shops in Dhaka and made a list of markets and shops that are fire prone. In the list published in 2019, 1048 markets and shops were declared vulnerable to fire. Of them, 428 are very risky. Four markets in the Bangabazar complex, which were gutted by fire on 4 April, had been identified as highly vulnerable in the list. Dhaka New Super Market (South) which was burnt down by fire on 15 April (last Saturday) was also very vulnerable in that list.

Even after four years of making the list in 2019, there has been no improvement in the situation, said fire service officials. For instance, a deputy director of the fire service told Prothom Alo that the Dhaka Trade Center in Gulistan was declared extremely vulnerable in 2019. There was no fire safety system in the market. There was electrical wiring all over the building. There was faulty electrical wiring inside the building as well. There are even exposed electrical wires in some places. Highly inflammable stuffs were kept everywhere throughout the market. There were many makeshift shops on the walkways around the building. Power cables of those shops remain exposed. The picture of the market was same even four years ago.

The fire service official said that Dhaka Trade Center had all kinds of conditions to catch fire. There is also an environment to spread the fire. There is even an electrical transformer near Pasha building on the southeast side of the market, which is very dangerous.

Nazmul Huda, General Secretary of the Shop Owners Association of the northern part of the market talked to this correspondent on Sunday afternoon. He told Prothom Alo that he did not know that this market is on the list of the fire service. The fire service did not tell them anything. However, he said, a few days ago, the fire service members came here for inspection. After the inspection, the fire service did not tell them anything. He claimed that there are a total of 153 fire extinguishers in two parts of the market.

However, the fire service says that letters have been sent several times to the two owner associations of the north and south parts of the Dhaka Trade Centre informing them of the fire risks. An official of the fire service tells Prothom Alo that the market authorities took no initiative to implement any of their observations and instructions. No one shows any interest in these matters despite sending letters repeatedly.

Gausia Market, opposite New Market, has been named in the fire service's latest list of high-risk markets. A team of fire service visited this market after the fire in Bangabazar. Dhaka fire service deputy director Dinomoni Sharma was in the inspection team. He told Prothom Alo that the stairs of Gauchia Market are not free. There are shops in there. Electric wires are hanging everywhere. It would enhance the risk of spreading the fire all over the building immediately after it breaks out. There is no such thing as fire safety in this market.

In this regard, Kamrul Hasan, the president of the Gausia Shop Owners Association, told Prothom Alo on Sunday, it is not right that the Gausia market is very vulnerable to fire. He claims, “This market is self-sufficient in fire safety. However, two or three days ago, the fire service inspected and said that the water reserve tank should be increased from one to two. There is shortage of some equipment which has to be installed in coordination with them. They took time for these tasks. Now I don't understand how they are enlisting it as highly risky.”

The fire service says that the capital's shops are fire prone, but the owners are actually indifferent. Instead of taking effective measures to reduce the risk, they make excuses. New investments are needed, including the purchase of safety equipment, to reduce fire risk. They are not interested in this work. Again the issue of fire safety is not limited to the purchase of equipment. Having multiple stores in a space meant for one store, storing goods on stairs and floors, turning basements into warehouses in some places, not providing fire safety training also create major risks of fire. If shop owners and trade associations do not comply with the rules just because of business interests, they will end up posing to greater hazard.