Keraniganj factory fire shatters dreams of many

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The deadly fire — sparked by a gas cylinder blast — broke out at the factory at around 4:30pm on the day, killing a worker on the spot and injuring 34 others

From a large house with a front yard and back patio, a cowshed full of cattle and a pond, Nazrul Islam had everything at his homestead on the bank of the Dudhkumar in Kurigram’s Nageshwari upazila. 

His small family had all the happiness and comfort. However, four episodes of river erosions over the past few years have devoured all that belonged to him. That includes his house and other properties, forcing him and his family to take refuge at his in-laws’ house. 

During their extended stay there for nearly two years, Nazrul took out a Tk80,000 loan as a way of making  a new beginning. 

Once a successful farmer, Nazrul finally moved to the capital Dhaka in search of jobs in the early part of 2015 and began living in Keraniganj. His efforts paid off as he started to drive an auto-rickshaw and earned for the family. Even his wife began to contribute to their family of five. 

The past four and half years have brought about a lot of changes to the family, which was quite up to satisfaction.

Though Nazrul managed to marry off his only daughter, he was still facing an uphill battle to repay the loan. At one point, he managed a job for his son Sahajul Islam at Prime Plate and Plastic Industries Ltd factory in Chalkutia of Keraniganj at a monthly salary of Tk12,000. 

Sahajul, 19, was an SSC examinee of 2020. He continued his studies despite working full-time at the factory. His family was hoping that their financial hardship would come to an end once he obtained an even better job after passing SSC.

Depressingly, though, the dream has now been shattered as Sahajul along with at least 34 others sustained burn injuries while at work on Wednesday afternoon. 

The deadly fire — sparked by a gas cylinder blast — broke out at the factory at around 4:30pm on the day, killing a worker on the spot and injuring 34 others.

Some 17 victims of the fire accident are being treated at the Burn and Plastic Surgery Unit and Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH).

Meanwhile, Sahajul and eight other victims, in grave danger and on life support at the institute, are battling for life.

Weighed down by sadness, Nazrul told Dhaka Tribune that the family had lost everything and were compelled to leave their ancestral place in Kurigram. 

He recalled that he had since been dreaming big after migrating to Dhaka. 

“But such a tragedy was not even in my remote thoughts,” he said, narrating how the fire had not only destroyed his dream, but also threatened his son’s life. 

“I relied a lot on my son and had big dreams of overcoming all my miseries. Now I don’t really know how to deal with the tragedy,” he said.

Nazrul went on to say that he had little or no idea that the factory had no fire safety measures whatsoever. 

A heart-rending atmosphere has been prevailing at the high dependency unit and at the institute since Wednesday evening, when the victims– all workers of the factory– began to arrive there. 

A number of the victims were sole breadwinners for their low-income families. They mainly hailed from villages, but later moved to Dhaka city in search of a better life. 

Originally from Jamalpur, Sohagh is among the nine victims being treated at the institute. Before migrating to the capital city, he used to work as a rickshaw-puller. 

Grappling with the problem of meeting his family’s needs, Sohagh came to Dhaka on December 3, just eight days before tragedy befell him, said his older brother Saju Miah. 

The same day, he joined the plastic factory at a monthly salary of Tk8,000, Saju added.

With tears in her eyes, their mother Afroza said: “My son never wanted to stop studying. But he was forced to do so due to poverty. Now he’s struggling for his life.”

The victims’ relatives and doctors said most of the victims were aged between 15 and 40 and had sustained up to 100% burn injuries. Many of them had suffered inhalation burns. 

“None of their [burn victims] faces can be recognized while their respiratory tracts are badly burnt too. All of them have burn injuries ranging from 60% to 100% in their bodies,” said the burn institute’s Chief Coordinator Dr Samanta Lal Sen on Friday.