Bashundhara City is a shopping mall located in Dhaka, Bangladesh with a rotunda architecture. It is the largest shopping centre in South Asia, and the 12th largest in the world. Opened to the public on 6 August 2004, the mall is located at Panthapath, near Karwan Bazar, in Dhaka city. Bashundhara City is 21 stories tall, of which 8 are used for the mall and the remaining floors are used as the corporate headquarters of the Bashundhara Group. On 13 March 2009, the top floors of the Bashundhara City Complex were damaged by a fire.
A raging blaze reduced the upper levels of the capital’s Bashundhara City shopping complex to a skeleton, killing at least seven people and injuring 20 others. Ill-equipped to douse high-rise flames, the fire fighters could do little as the fire that broke out on the 17th floor at around 1:45pm swallowed up two floors above and three below. Later, military, police and Rab personnel joined them and brought the flames under control at around 9:00pm. For hours, they fought an uphill battle with miserably inadequate equipment at their disposal.
Since Fire Service and Civil Defence’s only aerial ladder cannot gain access beyond 13th floor, six floors of the 20-storey mall-cum-office tower remained out of the fire fighters’ reach to be left in ruins. Black plumes of smoke from the high rise spiralled upward, while blazing windowpanes, furniture and other objects rained down on the pavement. Of those dead, Baki Billa, a member of Bashundhara’s own firefighting department, slipped and fell trying to climb down a rope. Three others however made safe landing while an air force chopper rescued another fireman from the rooftop.
The injured were rushed to nearby clinics and hospitals and treated for burns and smoke inhalation. Lt Commander Shahidul Islam, who led a 36-member rescue team from the navy, said they searched through the affected floors, but found no-one. However, locals said a number of people might be trapped inside as smoke and heat made it difficult to come out to safety. Their fears came true as the rescuers in a post-fire search found six bodies beside the elevator doors on the 17th floor. Witnesses said none of the corpses could be identified as they were charred beyond recognition.
Some staff of the shopping complex, the largest in the country, said they were afraid the bodies retrieved might be their six missing colleagues’. Earlier, hundreds of panic-stricken shoppers scrambled for exits as summer winds fanned the flames on the floors overhead. Those who were in the cineplex and gymnasium in the shopping centre were brought out of the building through gates on the west. The sight of upper Bashundhara burning fiercely caused panic among occupants of the neighbouring buildings.
With the television channels broadcasting live the inferno leaping across the landmark structure, thousands of people crowded the Panthapath area to see first-hand how things develop. As a result, fire trucks struggled to reach the scene. State Minister for Home Tanjim Ahmed Sohel said the fire could not be put out due to lack of proper firefighting equipment. Vehicular movement on Panthapath, Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue, Sonargaon Road and Green Road were suspended to avert accidents and help the fire fighters and others reach the spot. Casualties would have been much higher had all the offices not been closed on the weekend.