Nowhere to escape
The emergency exit doors on several floors of FR Tower were locked, making the escape difficult for many after the fire broke out at the high rise on Thursday, said fire officials.
As the death toll from the inferno stood at 25, firefighters who combed through the 22-storey building in Banani said they recovered most of the bodies on the 10th floor and above.
And several of the victims were lying dead near the locked exit points as they got trapped.
“We found some of the bodies just near the locked exit doors,” one of the firefighters told The Daily Star yesterday. “Some doors were not locked but the passages were crammed with piled up goods.”
Besides, the emergency staircase of the building was only 36 inches wide, said Brigadier General Md Sazzad Hussain, director general of Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence.
“It was not adequate for a building of 22 floors,” he added.
Shahjahan Sikder, a senior station officer of the Fire Service, said the FR Tower had two staircases apart from three lifts. The narrower of the two was what the building authorities called fire escape but it was not up to the standard.
“Even the exit doors on different floors used by separate owners were found locked,” Shahjahan told this newspaper. “There would have been fewer causalities had the exit doors been kept open.”
A person is supposed to stay safe from fire, heat and smoke while using a properly designed fire exit, but things were different at the Banani building, he added.
Besides, no fire drill or demonstration on how to escape through the emergency exits was held there in recent years, officials said quoting some employees of business organisations housed at FR Tower.
Former Fire Service DG Abu Nayeem Md Shahidullah said there were hose reels and fire extinguishers in building but those were not used to tame the blaze.
Talking to The Daily Star, a number of survivors said they didn't hear any fire alarm and made escape attempts following screams of people from adjoining offices.
Some made it to safety by sliding down cables on outer side of the building. Several people, including a Sri Lankan national, died after falling to the ground while climbing down.
Most of the victims died of suffocation after inhaling smoke, said fire officials and doctors.
This was not the first blaze at the building.
Fire broke out here at least three times, including that on Thursday, said Monirul Islam, assistant general manager of DIRD Group, which has offices on the 2nd, 12th, 13th, 16th and 19th floor of FR Tower.
Monir, a survivor of Thursday's blaze, said he also had experience of a fire in 2008 when he escaped through the rooftop.
Besides, according to media reports, a fire on the ground floor originated from an old air conditioner on Wednesday. Security guards at the building managed to douse it quickly.
Meanwhile, a police control room set up near the site disclosed the list of 25 dead yesterday morning. All the bodies were handed over to the families.
“This is the final list and no one else is missing,” DMP Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia told reporters.
Of the 70 injured, at least 23 were taking treatment at different hospitals yesterday. Six of them were admitted to Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, two to Kurmitola General Hospital, and 15 to United Hospital.
CAUSE STILL UNKNOWN
Fire officials suspected that an electrical short-circuit on the seventh floor might have caused the blaze. But, they said, it was not possible to say anything for sure before the investigation completes.
The deadly blaze left a trail of devastation on the seventh, eighth and ninth floor where almost everything was charred beyond recognition. No mentionable damage was seen up to the fifth floor.
Heavy smoke and ash created black layers on the furniture, computers and documents of the 10th and several other uppers floors, which remained outside the reach of flames, said firemen.
Monirul of DIRD Group said valuables at their office at 12th and 13th floor were damaged mainly because of ash.
Rezwan Mondol, a security guard at FR Tower, said floors from ground to fifth were okay. But the offices on the floors from 7th to 11th were damaged. "The remaining floors have been blackened with smoke."
DNCC Mayor Atiqul Islam, who visited the site in the afternoon, said staffers of respective offices housed at the building collected valuables that were found intact.
Buet experts will now check usability of the building and as per their recommendations further steps would be taken, he added.
Firemen in 10 groups searched all the floors of the tower from yesterday morning to be sure if there is further risk of fire.
Fire officials said they did not find any bodies inside the building yesterday. But the death toll was revised as they earlier had no information of several bodies sent to hospitals on Thursday night.