Two days after deadly blasts, Bangladesh container depot still burns
DHAKA: Firefighters battled for a third day on Monday to control a massive fire that left dozens dead when it sparked an explosion at a container depot in Bangladesh, as officials warned about the risk of an additional explosion if the flame spreads to chemicals stored nearby.
Drone footage from BM Container Depot at Sitakunda, 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of the port city of Chittagong, shows thick plumes of smoke still rising from the burned containers some 46 hours after the fire broke out.
With the country’s poor record of industrial accidents in the limelight, an official said safety guidelines were not being followed at the site, as the hydrogen peroxide container was identified as source may cause a fire.
The number of confirmed deaths has been revised down from 49 to 41, including at least nine firefighters. However, there are fears more people will die as some of the injured are in critical condition, said Mohammed Elias Hossain, Chittagong’s chief doctor.
Of the approximately 200 injured, 50 were rescue officials. Of those, 10 are policemen, while three firefighters are still missing, city police official Alauddin Talukder said.
Fire department official Monir Hossain said the warehouse had clearly ignored guidelines on storing chemicals. “We didn’t find any basic fire safety measures. Just some fire extinguishers. Nothing else,” he said.
Although the fire has been largely contained, nearby containers full of chemicals are still at risk of exploding.
“Our firefighters are working hard, but due to the presence of chemicals it is too risky to work nearby,” said Anisur Rahman, director of the port city’s fire service.
Officials said troops have also been deployed to prevent the spread of chemicals in the canals and along the Bay of Bengal coast.
‘A STRONG OXIDANT’
With the cause of the fire still under investigation, fire officials said it likely started in a container of hydrogen peroxide before spreading rapidly from there.
Ruhul Amin Sikder, agency secretary of Bangladesh Inland Container Depot Association (BICDA) said their facilities, including BM Container Depot, regularly handle hydrogen peroxide without any problems.
“According to our information, the BM depot follows normal operating procedures for the handling of hydrogen peroxide,” he said. “…What we couldn’t understand was the magnitude of the fires and explosions that we observed.”
Riasat Saquif Quadir, a chemical engineer, said hydrogen peroxide is “a strong oxidizing agent and will start or sustain combustion fairly easily.”
If the hydrogen peroxide solution evaporates on flammable materials such as clothing, “the fire can spontaneously occur without the need for an ignition source,” he added.
The warehouse holds about 800 containers filled with exportable items, about 85 percent of which are ready-to-wear, Sikder said. Bangladesh is the second largest garment exporter in the world.
The privately owned Dutch-Bangladesh joint venture has promised compensation of 1 million taka ($11,000) to the families of each worker killed in the fire.
Loose regulations and poor enforcement have been blamed for industrial fires in the country in recent years that have resulted in hundreds of deaths.
In 2020, three people were killed after an oil barrel exploded at a container depot in the Patenga area of Chittagong, while 54 people died last July in a fire at a food processing plant products on the outskirts of Dhaka.