Gas cylinder next to each bed; dangerous conditions at accommodation
It is believed that some people died due to not being able to evacuate when the fire broke out.
The army's Fire and Rescue received a call at 12.30am Thursday about a fire at M. Nirufehi house. Three minutes later, the fire engine was on scene. Even then, since the bottom of the building was completely ablaze, the army's first priority was to prevent the fire from spreading further.
Once that worked out, they started looking for people inside, but the soldiers in the rescue operation witnessed a scene they had never seen before. This is the first time in the country's history that a fire has claimed the highest number of lives.
Colonel Ibrahim Rasheed, who is in charge of the fire and rescue operation, described the condition of the house as a dangerous place.
"As far as we know, a gas bottle was placed near each bed there," Rasheed said.
According to the army, the fire broke out in a garage at the ground floor of the building. The garage, which repairs damaged vehicles, had gas cylinders inside that were as tall as the average man, the army said. People were living on two floors built above the garage.
It is understood that on both the first and second floors, migrant labourers lived on rent, most of them living separately in tiny rooms. Rooms were built to accommodate around 25 people, and even couples lived there.
There was a narrow staircase to climb the building. So, it would have posed much of a difficulty to get out of the building after the fire broke out right after midnight. It is believed that some people died due to not being able to evacuate when the fire broke out.
"There was a very narrow ladder to climb up the building and the whole place was in a very congested manner," Rasheed said, pointing out that due to the layout of the building, it was difficult to douse the fire and rescue people.
The army did not say how many people were inside when the fire broke out, but when the troops reached the area, Rasheed gathered from those who left the scene that there seemed to be nine people missing.
"So far, we have recovered 10 bodies and saved the lives of one more person," he said.
"But his condition is critical."
Details of the incident:
Bangladeshis, Indians and Sri Lankans were living in the house
Some of the bodies recovered from the spot were charred to the point where the gender could not be indentified
The garage has been hit with fire incidents in the past.
Rasheed said that two fire incidents were reported from the building before Thursday's incident. There was another incident the army was aware of, but it was not reported, he said.
"Based on the information we received later, it appeared that the incident in May was also a case of negligence in using a gas cutter," Rashid said.
He said the cause of the fire will be known only after further investigation.