1 Dies In Bashundhara Blaze, 6 Floors Burnt
Saturday, 14 March 2009

At least one person died after Bashundhara City, Bangladesh's largest shopping mall, turned into a towering inferno in the heart of the capital on Friday with fire engulfing the corporate offices on the upper floors.

Bashundhara Group security officer Baki Billah died of critical burn injuries at 4:30pm at the nearby Samarita Hospital, said hospital spokesperson Pradip Kumar Bhowmik.

Another seventeen injured were taken to Dhaka Combined Military Hospital.

The blaze that started around 1:30pm had died down toward late evening after firemen spent over five hours fighting raging flames that spread up and down the top floors of the 20-storied building, trapping many inside.

But fire was still being battled in places at 8:40pm.

Fire Brigade chief Abu Nayeem Mohammed Shahidullah told reporters five floors from the 15th to 19th were completely and the 14th was partially burned down by the inferno.

Bashundhara Group executive director Zahidur Rahman said the blaze started on the 18th floor and spread down to the 13th and up to the 20th, gutting those storeys including chairman Ahmed Akber Sobhan's office on the 19th floor.

There was no report of damage to shops in the complex, as the fire did not reach the lower floors, he added.

Probe ordered

A three-member investigation committee has been formed after the country's biggest shopping mall Bashundhara City turned into a towering inferno in the heart of the capital on Friday.

Led by a home ministry joint secretary, the probe body will look into the cause of the fire, home secretary Abdus Sobhan Sikder told reporters from the spot in the afternoon.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina had earlier ordered army, security agencies and all emergency rescue services to tackle the fire and save vicitms, her press secretary Abul Kalam Azad told reporters in the afternoon.

The prime minister's adviser, retired major general Tareq Ahmed Siddiqui, has been tasked to oversee the operations, said Azad.

The army along with navy fire experts soon joined rescue operation. Brig Gen Anwar said they had come in aid of the fire service and to secure the area.

Flames fanned by strong winds

The fire that began at around 1:45pm appeared under control at one point, but began raging again from 2:30pm as the flames were fanned by strong winds at the top of the tower, said firemen.

Fire brigade director Major Motiur told bdnews24.com that the fire originated from the 17th floor and shot upwards at first.

Senior correspondent Sumon Kaiser said flames and smoke were billowing from the top floors building at around 2pm.

Another correspondent, Humayun Hashim, said he saw many people looking out of windows to get out of the building.

Rescuers were forced to climb to the top floors. A fire safety officer of the Group, Kazi Golam Mostafa, had to be rescued by helicopter.

One man was shown on TV lowering himself from the rooftop down a hanging wire.

Firefighters had to climb up to the 17th floor as water hoses could not reach, said Motiur.

He said five fire units had initially been deployed and reinforcements later called in.

Home minister Sahara Khatun, state minister for home Tanjim Ahmed Sohel, police chief Noor Mohammed and Dhaka Metropolitan Police chief Naim Ahmed were also at the scene.

Sea of spectators

Hundreds of shoppers poured out of the main entrance of the building as the flames first shot out at the top of the building.

The shoppers joined crowds of bystanders that had gathered on the street below, which had been quickly closed off to traffic causing long tailbacks on adjoining roads.

Thousands congregated around Basundhara with a sea of spectators reaching from Panthapath back towards Hatirpul.

Fire rips through corporate offices

Deputy managing director of Bashundhrara Group Touhidul Alam said the corporate offices caught fire and that he sent men to salvage papers, but they could not.

The fire jumped floors and flames ripped through the top storeys, burning everything in its wake, he said.

Alam said he had no idea how the building caught fire.

Owner of Bismallah Store, Tofael Ahmed, said they were not allowed to bring out their merchandise.

He said he thought the fire started from the group chairman's office on the 19th floor.

A security worker of the complex, Rafiq, who gave only one name, had earlier said the 17th and 18th floors of the building caught fire first.

'South Asia's largest'

The owners of Basundhara City, opened to the public in August 2004, claim it is the largest shopping mall in South Asia and the 12th largest in the world.

The building is 20 storeys high, with the first 8 floors holding over 2,000 retail stores and cafeterias. Other floors also house a multiplex cinema, gymnasiums with swimming pools.

The upper floors are used as the corporate headquarters of the Bashundhara Group.

Mall closed to public Sat, Sun

The mall will remain closed to the public on Saturday and Sunday, said an official.

The shop owners association general secretary Khalilur Rahman said only they would be allowed to visit their premises during the two days.

Rahman said none of the shops were damaged in the fire that engulfed the upper floors though some merchandise was damaged to due to water poured in to extinguish the fire.

Source: bdnews24.com

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