53 fire incidents happened on average a day in 2018
The number of fire incidents has increased more than threefold across Bangladesh since 1997, with the year 2018 seeing 53 of that on average every day.
Fire Service and Civil Defence statistics showed that around 2,50,000 fire incidents took place in the country between January 1, 1997 and December 31, 2018, according to online database ‘Dataful’.
These fire incidents also caused an estimated financial loss of around Tk 6,400 crore to the nation.
At least 1,970 people were killed in around 2,00,000 fire incidents across the country between 2004 and 2018, according to available data of the fire service.
Urban experts attribute the sharp rise in fire incidents to unplanned urbanisation, violation of rules for constructing building, carelessness among people, increased use of gas cylinders and devices and lack of supervision by authorities concerned.
Last year saw the highest number of fire incidents of 19,642. But the highest number of casualties – 365 dead and 1385 injured – were recorded in 2011.
In terms financial losses, 2015 was the deadliest year as the country suffered a loss of an estimated Tk 850 crore in 17,488 fire incidents.
According to fire service data, around 5,802 fire incidents took place in 1997, but it gradually increased more than three times over the years. However, the number of casualties has been falling over the last few years, except 2018.
In 2006, 9,542 fire incidents killed 91 people and injured 873 more. Seventy people were killed and 210 others were injured in 17,830 incidents in 2014 while 68 died and 216 were injured in 17,488 incidents in 2015. The following year, 52 people were killed and 247 injured in 16,858 incidents, while 45 people killed and 269 injured in 18,105 incidents the next year.
But the number of casualties marked a sharp rise last year as 130 people were killed and 664 were injured in 19,642 incidents.
Contacted, Urban expert and former University Grants Commission (UGC) chairman Prof Nazrul Islam said usually fires are triggered by electric short-circuit, gas and other burners, cigarettes, gas cylinders and technological devices and inflammable objects and chemicals. “Sometimes, miscreants set fire to houses or shops and other establishments out of animosity.”
In many cases, he said, people’s callousness and lack of awareness are responsible for fire incidents. Public awareness can significantly bring down the number of fire incidents, he added.
Prof Nazrul said electric equipment should be inspected periodically to decrease chances of fire. "If we remain alert about small but crucial issues, the situation will improve substantially,” he said.
He said the use of gas cylinders in vehicles, houses and restaurants has now become a major worry and the government should increase its monitoring in this regard to tackle the problem.
The urban expert said the government will have to intensify its disaster management and prevention activities in urban areas as well as launch a countrywide campaign to raise awareness about the causes of fire.
Iqbal Habib, an urban expert and architect, said the number of fire incidents marked a gradual rise for three major reasons in Bangladesh – population density and unsafe house construction, unplanned and unsafe urbanisation and increasing use of technology without proper knowledge of their usage.
Besides, lack of awareness among people, lack of monitoring by the authorities concerned, lack of enforcement of laws, storing and use of inflammable chemicals unsafe way, weakness in city governance are other reasons behind the increase in fire incidents, he noted.
To check fire incidents and casualties, Habib said massive and continual awareness campaigns must be conducted involving political parties and NGOs. “’Improving the city governance skills, strict enforcement of laws and rules and regulations, making people aware about urban life and use of technology, increasing the capacity of fire department and creating trained civil manpower to provide service in case of any fire are also necessary,” he said.
Habib said the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse brought about a huge change in public attitude about safety and the fire service also increased their capability. This led to a decrease in casualties from fire incidents the subsequent years. “But things are worsening now again amid the apathy of authorities concerned,” he added.