Bailey Road fire: No precautions despite being aware of risks

The building Green Cozy Cottage on Bailey Road in the capital which caught fire on Thursday nightSuvra Kanti Das

Concerned government agencies were aware that the building on Bailey Road in the capital was at risk of fire, but they took no action. The building authorities were complacent too. Only after people died did the flaws surface.

On Thursday night, 46 people died in a fire that engulfed Green Cozy Cottage, a multi-storey building on Bailey Road. Another 11 persons were injured and are undergoing treatment in hospital.

After the raging fire and deaths, the director general of the Fire Service and Civil Defence Directorate, Brig. Gen. Md. Main Uddin yesterday, Friday, told the media that there was no fire safety system in the building. Letters were issued three times regarding the risky condition of the building, but no action was taken.    

The multi-storey on Bailey Road in the capital caught on fire at 9:45pm Thursday night Photo taken on Friday morning
Prothom Alo

Meanwhile, the Radhani Unnayan Kartripakko RAJUK (the city development authority) says that there was no permission to open restaurants or sales outlets in the building.

Despite the risks of fire and no approval being given, there were eight restaurants in the building running for years. Being the last working day of the week, people had thronged there to eat out with friends and family. Many people earned their living working in this building.

When the fire broke at 9:45pm Thursday night, people rushed to the roof of the building and on various floors. The fire unit worked with 13 units and managed to bring the fire under control at around 11:45pm. After that, one body after the other was recovered from the building. Health minister Samanta Lal Sen at around 2:00am confirmed the death of 43. Friday morning he stated that the death toll stood at 46. In the afternoon the police said that among those who died, 20 were men, 18 women and 8 children. Of them, 43 could be identified. The bodies of 40 of the deceased have been handed over to their families.

The injured persons rescued from the Bailey Road fire were rushed to Sheikh Hasina National Burn and Plastic Surgery Institute and Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Relatives thronged there since Thursday night. As time passed, they spoke about the heartrending incidents.

Also Read

Nazia Ahmed (32) had taken her two children – seven-year-old Arhan Ahmed and three-year-old Abiyat Ahmed – to a restaurant in the building where they were killed in the fire. City College student Nusrat Jahan phoned her father when she was trapped in the building, calling out, “Abbu, fire! Save us!” Those were her past words. Her father Abdul Quddus called her relentlessly after that, to no avail. He went to Bailey Road and then to the Dhaka Medical morgue only to find her lifeless body. He cried out in grief, “I couldn’t save you!”

President Md Shahabuddin and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have expressed deep grief at the deaths in the Bailey Road fire. Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and leaders of other political parties and organisations have expressed their sorrow. News of the deaths in the Dhaka fire has been highlighted by various international media including BBC, CNN, the New York Times, The Guardian, Reuters, AFP, AP and Al-Jazeera.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) at a press briefing yesterday (Friday) said that Anwarul Huq and Shafiqur Rahman, two owners of Chumuk, an eatery in the building, and Zainuddin Zishan, the manager of another eatery there, Kachchi Bhai, had been detained. The police will file a case concerning death due to negligence in this incident.

Meanwhile, visiting the site on Friday, the home ministry’s security services division secretary Abdullah Al Masud Chowdhury said, “We (fire service) have formed an inquiry committee. We want to see if there was any discrepancy on the part of anyone.”

Expatriate Syed Mubarak Hossain, his wife and three children died in the fire. Their relations wail in grief. Friday morning in front of the Dhaka Medical emergency department
Prothom Alo

Eight restaurants on eight floors

RAJUK has said that approval had been taken for the eight floors in the construction of Green Cozy Cottage. A visit to the building saw it had two lifts and one staircase. The basement was used as a car park.

According to the fire service, the outlets on the ground floor included two mobile phone and electronic goods sales centres, Samsung and Gadget & Gear, a juice bar Shakelick and a café Chumuk. On the second storey there was the restaurant Kachchi Bhai. On the third storey was Illiyeen, a clothing store, on the fourth floor were two restaurants Khanas and Fuko, in the fifth floor Pizza Inn, on the sixth floor restaurants Zesty and Street Oven, and on the rooftop, a restaurant Ambrosia. There was the signboard of a restaurant HakkaDhaka on the seventh floor, but this did not appear on the fire service’s list.

People throng in front of the Dhaka Medical morgue in search of bodies of their relations after the fire at a multi-storey building on Bailey Road in the capital Thursday night
Prothom Alo
Also Read

Fire broke out on the ground floor

According to the fire service and police, the fire initially broke out on the ground floor. However, they could not ascertain exactly how or from which shop it started.

Fir service officials say that on every floor of the building there were around 6 to 10 Liquefied Petroleum Gas cylinders used for cooking purposes. There were gas cylinders on the stairs too. There were at least 12 gas connections found on the eastern side of the building though no cylinders.

After the fire, the police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID)’s crime scene team and bomb disposal squad of the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit visited the site and collected evidence. Speaking to Prothom Alo, the CTTC deputy commissioner (DC) Mishuk Chakma said, no evidence has been found of any cylinder explosion.

Why so many deaths?

There were no burn marks on most of the bodies of the 46 persons who had died in the incident. The burn marks that were found were not severe enough to cause death. Explaining why there had been so many deaths, health minister Samanta Lal Sen and associate professor of the Sheikh Hasina National Burn and Plastic Surgery Institute, Prabir Chandra Das, said carbon monoxide poisoning was the cause of most of the deaths.

Prabir Chandra Das told Prothom Alo, it was not possible to examine the cause of death of all the victims. However, in the later hours of Thursday night (early hours of Friday), 10 persons though to be injured were brought over. The cause of their death was found to be carbon monoxide poisoning.

The fire service officials say that the fire probably started from a shop near the stairs. As the fire spread rapidly, the exit down the stairs was blocked. There was only one staircase in the building so the people in the upper floors were stuck. All the restaurants were air conditioned and enclosed in glass for which air could not enter from outside.

Fire service officials said that wood and similar materials (particle board) were used in the interior decorations. These were easily flammable and so the fire spread rapidly.

After the fire incident, the dead bodies of nine were recovered from a room on the third storey. Fire service sources say that there were no burn marks on their bodies and they had probably died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Explaining carbon monoxide poisoning, Dhaka University’s chemistry department professor and air pollution researcher Abdus Salam told Prothom Alo, when a fire breaks out anywhere and there is a lack of oxygen, carbon monoxide is created. People can die of this and also from the lack of oxygen.

Under pressure from foreign buying companies, safety has been ensured in the garments sector. Why is there no initiative to protect public lives?   
Iqbal Habib, architect and vice president of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan

Flaws in the building

RAJUK is responsible to look into whether the buildings in the capital city follow the rules and regulations in construction. It is the responsibility of the fire service to check if the regulations pertaining to fire safety are followed.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on Friday, RAJUK’s urban planner and director of the Detailed Area Plan (DAP) project Ashraful Islam said, the building has permission for residence on the eight-storey. Permission has been taken for commercial use from the first to seventh floor, but that was for offices. No permission had been given for restaurants, sales centres or anything else.

RAJUK had not checked what outlets had been opened up in the building without permission.

Family members wail at the Dhaka Medical College emergency department
Prothom Alo

Director general of the fire service Brig. Gen. Main Uddin, speaking to journalists at the site on Friday, said that there was no fire safety system in the building. There was only one staircase in the building. There were a couple of fire extinguishers. There were no windows in the room where people had taken shelter. That led to the deaths. He said, letters had been sent thrice about the risk of fire, but the building authorities had done nothing about it.

Even six months after issuing the letters, the fire service took no action. The fire service offered no official explanation as to why no action was taken. However, former director general of the fire service Brig. Gen. Abu Naim Md Shahidullah (retd) told Prothom Alo, the fire service can hang up a notice on any building that is as risk of fire. It can file a case. It takes a long time, however, to get any result from a case. He said, what is actually needed is coordinated initiative and efforts of the government agencies.

Flaws exposed only after accidents

Flaws and discrepancies are only exposed after any accident occurs in the country. For example, after 26 persons died in a massive blast that took place in a seven-storey building, Queen Sanitary Mart, in Siddiqbazar of Dhaka on 7 March last year, RAJUK said that the five-storey building was made seven-storey without permission. After 12 people died in a blast on the ground floor of Rakhi Neer, a building in Maghbazar in the evening of 27 June 2021, it was learnt that the residential building was being used for commercial purposes.

In investigating the case pertaining to the Siddiqbazar incident, police found institutional flaws in Titas Gas. But they have not been able to submit any charge sheet as it hasn’t been possible to determine who is responsible.

Bashona Rani (centre) lost her daughter and grandchildren in the fire. Wailing in front of the hospital morgue
Prothom Alo

After visiting Green Cozy Cottage on Bailey Road on Friday, vice president of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan (BAPA), architect Iqbal Habib said he had observed violation of the building code in the stairs, the fire safety system, the entrance and exit of the building, the ventilation and in all aspects. He told Prothom Alo, rather than delaying and saying we will take fire safety measures or we are taking measures, the government must start work tomorrow. Under pressure from foreign buying companies, safety has been ensured in the garments sector. Why is there no initiative to protect public lives?   

Also Read