Nothing can console Rupa Begum. She lost her two-and-a-half year old son in a fire at Bhasantek slum in Dhaka's Mirpur area early yesterday. Her only child drowned in a ditch inside the slum when the occupants were fleeing from the flames.
Tanvir Tonmoy was on Rupa's lap when the fire broke out around 1:15am.
Immediately after the blaze, the residents gathered beside a narrow passage in the middle of the waterbody. The pathway, two to three feet long, was the only open space they could find. It led to a dead end, blocked by concrete buildings.
Meanwhile, fire began to rage towards them from the opposite end. Panicked, people started running away from it. Rupa, who was in the crowd, lost balance and fell into the ditch.
Tonmoy also fell into water on the other side of the passage. He had been missing since then. Yesterday noon, his body was recovered by divers of Fire Service and Civil Defence.
During the rescue mission, body of another child -- around three-month old -- was also recovered, said Mahfuz Revan, duty officer of Fire Service and Civil Defence.
No further details were known immediately regarding the child. Besides, a 12-year old girl is also missing, according to fire officials.
The reason behind the fire is yet to be ascertained. A five-member investigation committee has been formed in this regard, said Kazi Nazmuzzaman, deputy assistant director of Fire Service and Civil Defence.
While visiting the area yesterday, this newspaper spoke to Rupa's mother Jahanara Begum. She was trying to soothe Rupa who was inconsolable.
Jahanara said they had been living in a shanty at the slum with some of their belongings after they were evicted following a recent government drive.
“First, we lost our belongings in the eviction and now fire,” Jahanara said. “Now my grandchild is dead…”
FIRE LEAVES 3,000 HOMELESS
Yesterday's devastating fire engulfed some 600 houses and left about 3,000 slum dwellers homeless.
It took about three hours for 21 fire engines to control the blaze. Fire service men doused the flame around 6:30am.
The slum housed about 700 wood- and tin-built shanties. Many of those were erected in five to 15 feet deep ditches full of water. Occupants constructed narrow passages inside the slum by putting earth and concrete materials in the ditches for their movement.
A number of slum dwellers said they could not save household belongings including gold ornaments as they had to rush out to save themselves.
About 100 of the affected dwellers were living temporarily at their relatives' homes in the slum after the authorities concerned demolished their houses at a nearby slum recently.
They could save some of their belongings during the demolition but lost the remaining to yesterday's fire.
For Champa and Shahabuddin, who used to live in a rented tin-shed room at the slum, 20 goats were the only means of livelihood.
For the last couple of years, the childless couple put all their efforts in rearing goats to secure a better future. But yesterday's fire shattered all their dreams.
“Everything [I owned] is gone. How will I be able to pay off my Tk 20,000 loan?” said a wailing Champa, 48, while showing the charred remains of the animals.
She said her husband Shahabuddin, 57, who used to be a day labourer, is unable to work now. “That's why we went for an alternative source of income,” said Champa.
Sheuli Akter, mother of five children, said, “I had around Tk 2 lakh in my room. Now I have nothing.”
Grocer Faruq Mia, 35, said all his belongings at home and shop, inside the slum, were burned. He said he woke up in the middle of the night hearing screams of “fire”.
“All I could do was to come out with my wife and two children,” he added.
Slum dweller Saiful Islam said his Tk 80,000 was burnt in the fire.
DWELLERS SUSPECT 'FOUL PLAY'
Slum dwellers suspected that someone “might have set fire” to the slum while Fire Service and Civil Defence officials said the “fire could have initiated from electric short-circuit or a mosquito coil”.
“Fire erupted from an empty room on the east side. It has been raining for the last two days. There is no reason fire should erupt from that room,” Wahed Ali, a resident, told The Daily Star.
“When we splashed water, the intensity of fire increased… someone might have poured petrol there,” alleged Wahed, driver of a CNG-run three-wheeler.
He said, “Most of us have nowhere to go. Some don't even have money to pay for transport. The [government] officials told us to wait. We are waiting for them.”
Nozimuzzaman, deputy assistant director of Fire Service and Civil Defence in Dhaka, said four fire engines were still working at the spot last evening.
The slum, locally known as “Abul's Slum”, was burnt to ashes in the massive inferno, just a week before its scheduled eviction on March 7 by the government.
On February 19, the authorities evicted another nearby slum, “Kazal's Tek”. Many of the evicted slum dwellers took shelter in Abul's Slum.