A terrible fire broke out at Balukhali Rohingya camp in Ukhiya upazila of Cox's Bazar on Monday afternoon, destroying hundreds of makeshift houses sheltering Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
Witnesses claimed the blaze burned at least a thousand homes. Upon receiving the news, members of the fire brigade went to the spot and were trying to control the fire till filing of this report at 8pm.
Md Rafiquddin, a Rohingya from the camp, said the fire became irresistible due to the explosion of some gas cylinders.
The fire broke out at 8-E/W block of Balukhali Camp around 4:15pm. Due to high wind speed, the fire spread beyond the E block of camp 8 to the W block and camps 9 and 10, said Syed Mohammad Tahfim, the public information officer of the Inter Sector Coordinator Group, a coordinating body of NGOs working in the camp.
However, no one could say how the fire started. Rohingyas with family members quickly evacuated from different blocks of the camp to avoid casualties.
After the fire started spreading, young and old Rohingyas rushed in different directions to save their lives. Many Rohingyas, including children and the elderly, are feared to be missing.
Camp sources could not say how many houses were burnt in the fire or how many people were injured.
But according to an estimate of 18 January, the number of houses in camp 8-E in Balukhali is 6,250 and the population 29,472; the number of houses in 8-W camp is 6,613 with a population of 30,743; the number of houses in camp-9 is 7,200 with a population of 32,963 and camp 10 with 6,320 houses and a population of 29,709.
Abbas Uddin, a Rohingya who fled his home after the fire broke out, said, "In the midst of efforts to heal the wounds inflicted on the Rohingya community in Myanmar, the horrific fire incident in Bangladesh has caused extreme panic."
While fleeing with a trunk and a bucket, Laila Begum, 45, said the horrors of today's fire reminded her of atrocities in Myanmar.
Ukhia Upazila Nirbahi Officer Nizam Uddin Ahmed said an army team was working to douse the fire. Rohingyas were also evacuated from different blocks of the camp to avoid casualties. As the affected Rohingyas and locals moved on the road, the movement of vehicles was severely disrupted.
Cox's Bazar Additional Commissioner for Relief and Refugee Repatriation Shamsuddoza Nayan said despite desperate efforts, the fire could not be doused till 8pm. It is difficult to say now how much damage has been done.
Palangkhali Union Parishad Panel Chairman Nurul Abshar Chowdhury said, "Even though the locals are facing various problems due to sheltering the Rohingyas, Monday's fire has made the locals sympathising with them like in 2017. Locals are giving first aid to the affected Rohingyas with whatever limited capacity they have."