It was around 3:00am yesterday. Most of the people living in Elias Mollah Slum of the capital's Mirpur were in deep slumber.
Suddenly, Renu Begum, a 55-year-old slum resident, heard someone screaming "Fire! Fire!". And she immediately realised that a fire might have broken out and was gutting the shanties around her residence. At the same time, the electricity went off.
Without thinking twice, she started searching for the key of the almirah so she could take out the valuables before the fire engulfed everything.
But she could not as the fire came so close that she along with around 15 members of her family had to run for lives, leaving the valuables only to be gutted by the fire.
She was narrating her harrowing tale to this correspondent when she returned to the slum in the morning. By this time, almost the entire slum, which was abuzz with activities even a day before, had taken a deserted look.
Around 1,000 shanties were completely gutted in the devastating fire, leaving thousands of slum dwellers homeless, said Abdullah Al Arefin, senior station officer at Mirpur Fire Station. However, locals claimed there were around 3,000 shanties there.
Though no casualty was reported, the proprietor of Jewel Pharmacy, a drug store near the slum, said around 100 people took primary treatment at his facility.
Bachchu Mia, in-charge of DMCH police outpost, said only a woman named Zamila Khatun, 65, was admitted to Dhaka Medical College and Hospital (DMCH) with burn injuries.
Like Renu Begum, other slum dwellers also had similar stories to tell. They were found sifting through the charred remains of their belongings.
Sakhina Begum, 25, from Gaibandha, started living in the slum around a year back with her husband and two school-going children.
Sakhina was working as a maid while her husband was eking out a living as a rickshaw puller.
Like everyone else, they also did not get any time to save their belongings. All of their valuables including a saving of Tk 16,000 were burned in the blaze.
The family was seen collecting scraps from the burnt-out valuables, what they sold to a metal scrap trader for only Tk 200 as they needed the money for buying food.
Another victim of fire incident, Jahangir Alam of Jamalpur, said the furniture he had at his house was worth around Tk 40,000. “But I have sold the gutted metal furniture for only Tk 1,000,” he added.
Low income people, mostly garments workers, rickshaw-pullers, small shopkeepers and housemaids used to live there. The people, who had everything last night, are now homeless. Students are the worst sufferers as they had lost their books and study materials in the fire while their exams are ahead.
Witnesses said the fire broke out at the south part of the slum. They alleged that fire fighters took time to arrive the scene, letting the fire spread.
However, Mirpur Fire Station official Abdullah Al Arefin said due to narrow lanes, they faced a problem in reaching the scene.
Besides, there was a leak in the gas line inside the slum; therefore, the fire spread quickly, he added.
Finally, after four hours of frantic effort, 21 units of firefighters took the blaze under control around 7:15am. Law enforcers and army personnel joined in dousing the flame, he added.
The cause of the fire could not be known immediately. A probe body was formed to investigate the incident, the fire official added.
Haji Razzab Hossain, councillor of ward No 6 (Pallabi), said, “We are making a list of the fire victims. The homeless people will temporarily stay at a nearby under-construction seven-story building.”