Twenty-two firefighters were the first to respond to the fire that broke out in a Chattogram depot in Sitakunda.
Most of them never made it back.
Now, a day after, large, black plumes of smoke from the flaming container depot still dominate the skyline. Every now and then, an explosion can still be heard.
Death and despair hang heavy in the air, with the pungent smell of chemicals wafting around, covering other, darker, smells.
A few firemen stand watching the blaze on Sunday.
After the fate of the first two teams, they have been asked to maintain their distance.
For them, there are no heroes here. Only survivors and victims: people who don't currently want the eulogising.
Their helplessness also weighs heavily on them.
"I have been working as a firefighter. I took part in extinguishing more than 350 fires in Chattogram. But this is the first time when I am just standing and watching the blaze. There isn't anything we can do," Shafiqul Islam, station officer of Chattogram Agrabad Fire Service Station, says.
He is standing in front of the blaze, the heat of which can be felt even from a distance, his eyes glued to the fire.
"There are chemicals in the container. We cannot approach the fire and no amount of water can help," he adds.
Shafiqul was among the second batch of firefighters to arrive on the scene. Many among the team from Kumira station, which arrived first, had been injured in the blasts.
Another firefighter, Amar Nath, is seen taking rest, the exhaustion writ on his face.
Pointing to the fire, he says, "There is a difference between a normal fire and a chemical fire. A chemical fire burns blue. Many of our fingers have turned white because of the blaze. Many have become ill. Right now, we have nothing to do."
Into the unknown
When news of the fire spread, two firefighting units from Kumira fire station of Sitakunda rushed to the spot.
At the time, however, fire service officials were not informed of the chemicals stored in the depot.
All they knew was that they were called to douse a fire at a "garments depot", officials of the Chattogram Fire Service and Civil Defence claimed.
"We were told that a ready-made garments factory has caught on fire. Thus, our team started dousing the fire without taking enough precautions," said Nandankanan Fire Service Senior Officer Shahidul Islam.
"Since there was no information of any chemical presence there, the first group of fire-fighters was faced with an unexpected explosion," he said, adding that at least five firefighters have lost their lives in the deadly blast.
The team had come in and sprayed water to tame the inferno. Unknown to them, some of the containers carried chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide.
Hydrogen Peroxide is known to be a powerful oxidising agent. If it comes into contact with certain organic compounds, explosive vapours can form. Although not immediate flammability, it does generate significant amounts of oxygen when it begins to decompose which might in turn, trigger or support combustion.
"We didn't know what type of combustible materials are kept in the containers. This is why we needed the depot owner or anyone else from their side as different chemicals behave and react differently," Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence Director General (DG) Brig Gen Md Main Uddin would say at a press briefing on Sunday.
"Two firefighting units rushed to the scene within five minutes of the incident. After that, some 25 units from 15 stations including Feni, Laxmipur and Cumilla joined the efforts to bring the fire down," he added.
While the world was burning down, the depot owner, whose information could save many lives, could not be located.
Soon, some of the containers exploded, spewing debris. The explosions also shattered the glasses of many of the trucks parked nearby.
The firemen were close to the fire before huge explosions reportedly shattered the windows of several buildings nearby and were felt from areas as far as four kilometres away.
At the same time, while firemen were fighting the blaze, some trucks went over their water pipes, bursting a few.
A water crisis meant the operation had to face another hurdle. Later, a pump was installed in a nearby pond.
Faruk Hossain Sikder, assistant director of the Agrabad Fire Service in Chittagong, however, told The Business Standard that there was no water crisis.
"These are chemicals. They cannot be extinguished with fire. We are now trying to douse the flames by throwing water from a safe distance," he said.
In time, 24 units of Agrabad, Bayezid, Bandar, Kalurghat, Hathazari, Sitakunda, Mirsarai and Feni's Sonagazi stations were added to the numbers.
When that wasn't enough, police, RAB, Ansar and Red Crescent volunteers also took part in the rescue operation.
Soon, the army pitched in, their contingents rolling in as the last line of defence.
'Burnt bodies, smattering of limbs'
When the explosions started, its impact felt some four kilometres away, and it started raining debris, members of the Gausia Committee and also the Red Crescent society were instantly alerted that something had gone very wrong.
Rescue teams, numbering in their thousands, were put together from across the port city.
Their mission: Rescue those trapped and bring out any corpses.
Mizbah Uddin, a member of Gausia Committee, a non-profit organisation, was found on the spot.
"Panic spread after we began hearing loud explosions around 10:30pm. The fire was raging. We could hear people shouting all around," he recalled.
"We entered after 1:00am through the depot gate number 2. I could barely keep my eyes open because of the smoke. We saw some people trapped and began rescuing them," he said.
Mizbah remembers seeing people with legs torn off and some whose entire bodies were charred.
"The ambulances had to carry 7-8 patients at a time. The situation was horrible," he said.
Even in the morning, the rescue workers could be seen carrying bodies, often whatever remained of it.
Elsewhere, volunteers began to arrive at CMCH, where doctors were overwhelmed with the flow of burnt patients.
Anisul Haque, a volunteer of the Red Crescent, said, "One after another, the burnt patients were coming. Some of the volunteers were helping to bring the patients on stretchers. Some were applying ointment. I have never seen such a terrible situation before," he said.
A firefighter death toll unheard of
The container depot, located at Sonaichhari Union, Sitakunda Upazila, Dhaka-Chittagong Highway, first caught fire around 9:45pm.
Workers at the depot later told reporters that a tin shed, some 500 metres inside the depot, had stored Hydrogen Peroxide for export.
Among the casualties so far are nine fire service personnel who died on duty. The whereabouts of two are still unknown while at least 14 have been wounded severely.
As the dust began to settle, Fire Service and Civil Defence Director General Brig Gen Md Main Uddin told the media that he had never seen so many deaths of firefighters in his 25 years in the service.
He isn't wrong.
Since independence, only 17 firefighters have died during operations. Only one died during a recent major fire -- the one in the capital's FR Tower.
The death toll is expected to rise, as many of the 200 victims had burnt tracheas.
Bodies of nine firefighters have been recovered, eight of whom have been identified.
Twelve firefighters are still missing after last night's blast, which killed at least 49 people.
The firefighters dead or missing are: Rana Miah (dead) from Manikganj, Maniruzzaman (dead) Cumilla, Alauddin (dead) from Noakhali, Shakil Tarafder (dead), Mithu Dewan (dead) from Rangamati, Imran Hossain Mazumder (missing), Chandpur, Shafiul Islam (missing) from Sirajganj, Nipon Chakma (dead) from Ranamati, Ramjanul Islam (dead) from Sherpur, Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (dead) from Feni, Rabiul Islam (missing) from Nougaon, and Fariduzzaman (missing) from Rangpur.