The tragic spectacle of four major fires on consecutive days inevitably brought the issue of personal security and safety, particularly in our places of work, front and centre of the nation's discourse this week. Three of the fires were in commercial buildings, or buildings that were at least partially being used for commercial purposes. One of them was in fact at an oxygen plant in Sitakunda. In each case, the early indications point to some sort of flammable gas accumulating inside an enclosed space, ripe for ignition. Or as was the case in Sitakunda, inadequate safety measures in place for inherently hazardous work.

It only takes a match to be lit in that environment, or even just the sparks off a short circuit, to cause untold damage. Witnesses relay how there was an initial blast in three of the four cases - in Sitakunda, the collapsed building in the Science Lab area, and in Gulistan, which ended up being the deadliest incident of the week. At the time of writing, at least 20 people are known to have been killed in that particular tragedy. The culprit there, at least in the early reckoning, would seem to have been some stores selling sanitary products on the ground floor. The explosion coming at the start and causing the subsequent fire, and not the other way around, is always a tell-tale sign of accumulated gas.

Not that these were the only fatal incidents of fire during the week, or that residential areas are somehow insulated from the danger. Even as firefighters scrambled to make the best of some very, very bad situations, there were others where they didn't even make it in time to save anyone. For example in Natore, a mother and her two little children were killed after their LPG cylinder exploded in the night. These have become almost commonplace by now. It hasn't been long, of course, since we had the deadly inferno that ripped through a residential block in a posh section of Gulshan in the capital. And in the older parts of town, residential units are of course well known to be severely compromised when it comes to safety issues due to the practice of homeowners utilising the ground floors for some commercial activity, either as a shopfront or storage.

The other, more intriguing - but thankfully not fatal - fire this week was of course the enormous blaze that engulfed the Rohingya camp in Ukhiya. Although no lives were lost, around 2,000 makeshift homes were destroyed, displacing 12,000 people and destroying schools, a food centre, and latrines. It is rather interesting how there have been more than 300 fire incidents in the camps in recent years, many resulting from gas cylinder explosions, after the first few years passed without a single such incident. Overcrowding, bad infrastructure, and limited water resources mean fires are hard to escape or put out quickly.

Add to that the fact that many of these fires are likely set intentionally: According to a report by the parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Defense, there were 222 fires in 2021 alone, of which only 99 were deemed accidental. Of the rest, at least 60 are deemed to have been caused by sabotage. Camp residents regularly point the finger at the ARSA militant group, whose presence in the camps is no longer a secret. And yet, provided that the report is indeed correct, what does it reflect on the state of policing in the camps, that potentially 60 cases of arson have not even resulted in a single charge being brought against anyone in a court of law?

Is it that we've learned to live with this unnatural, in fact very often man-made hazard? Or are we resigned to our fate?

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