Haunted by the fear of deadly fires caused by chemical warehouses in Old Dhaka, Maidul Alam Akash's family rented a flat in Armanitola's Musa Mansion seven years ago mainly because the building housed no chemical warehouses.
Five years ago, however, after the death of building owner Musa Mia, his sons rented out the ground floor rooms to chemical shops and for chemical storage.
The building's tenants protested but to no avail, said Maidul, a BBA student of Mirpur Bangla College.
In the early hours yesterday, a devastating fire at the ground floor of Musa Mansion left four people dead and 23 others wounded.
Injured in the fire, Maidul is now undergoing treatment at Sheikh Hasina National Burn Institute and Plastic Surgery along with his parents and sister.
He said his father did not move elsewhere even after the ground floor shops were rented out to chemical traders as his wholesale rice shop is at a nearby market.
Besides, most of the buildings in Armanitola area have chemical shops and warehouses in their ground floors, said the youth who lives on the second floor of the fire-affected six-storey Musa Mansion.
Maidul said he detected a smell of smoke around 3:15am.
"I opened the main door of our flat to find the source of the smell. Soon smoke billowed into the flat and we started suffocating," he told The Daily Star while lying in a hospital bed.
He said soon he along with his parents and sister ran to the balcony and managed to break the grill. Locals then came from adjacent buildings and rescued them.
"We narrowly escaped death," Maidul said feebly.
Runu Roy, owner of a stationery shop in the area, said around 80 percent houses in Armanitola have chemical storages and shops on the ground floors, while residential apartments are situated on the upper floors.
He said he shifted his residence to a safer place in fear of fire even though his family had lived in Armanitola for generations.
The dead were identified as Sumaiya Akhter, 22, a second-year student of English Department in Eden College who lived with her family on the third floor of the building; security guard of the chemical shops Mohammad Russel, 27; his maternal uncle and caretaker of the building Md Waliullah, 70, and Mohammad Kabir, 27, an employee of a ground-floor shop.
The ground floor of Musa Mansion has around 14 chemical shops and storage facilities while there are 15 apartments in the upper floors, with three apartments to each floor.
The fire broke out at a chemical storage facility on the ground floor of the six-storey building around 3:15am, said Brig Gen Md Sazzad Hussain, director general of Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence.
The firefighters managed to contain the blaze on the ground floor, said Fire Service Assistant Director Abdul Halim.
Most of the injured fell ill due to inhaling smoke. The reason behind the fire could be determined after investigation, he added.
He said a huge amount of chemical is stored there.
Fire Service formed a four-member inquiry committee headed by Deputy Director (development) Nur Hasan Ahmed.
Nineteen units of firefighters brought the blaze under control after frantic attempts for around two hours, said Mahfuz Reeben, duty officer at fire service control room.
Junayed Sarkar, brother of Sumaiya, one of the deceased, said when they were all desperately trying to escape from the balcony of their third-floor apartment, they realised that Sumaiya was not among them.
Juanyed and his father Ibrahim Sarkar then went looking for her and found Sumaiya lying in a bathroom, he said.
Doctors declared her dead after she was rushed to Mitford Hospital.
Junayed, his father, mother Sufia Sarkar, sister Mona and her husband Ashiqur Rahman were undergoing treatment at the burn institute.
The condition of Mona and her husband was stated to be critical.
The 23 injured, including four fire service officials, were shifted to Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery where they are undergoing treatment, said Dr Samanta Lal Sen, chief coordinator of the institute.
Except for three to four, all other wounded inhaled poisonous smoke that led to breathing problems and inhalation injuries, he added.
Four of the injured -- newlywed couple and computer engineers Mona and her husband Ashiqur, rice traders Khorshed Alam, 70, and his brother Delwar Hossain, 58 -- were admitted to ICU with burn injuries.
The chemical storages in Old Dhaka buildings caused a devastating fire in Nimtoli in 2010, killing 126 people, while 70 others died in another devastating fire in Chawkbazar in 2019.
The incidents caused a huge outcry for removal of chemical shops and storages from buildings.
After the Chawkbazar fire, the media reported that there are more than 25,000 chemical warehouses in Old Dhaka, of which around 15,000 are in residential buildings. Fire service officials said only around two percent storehouses have permission from the city corporation.
Late last night, the duty officer of Bangshal Police Station confirmed that a case had been filed in connection with the fire incident. It could not, however, be confirmed who were made accused in the case.