A devastating fire reduced much of the DCC Market at Gulshan-1 to rubble yesterday.

No one was killed or hurt in the blaze that swept through the two-storey building for about 16 hours since around 2:00am. But over 300 shops were gutted and a portion of the market collapsed on impact, causing losses worth several hundred of crores of taka.

Businessmen claimed the fire was an act of sabotage, but fire service officials were yet to ascertain the cause.

Several security guards who were on duty at night said the fire originated from an explosion of a transformer, only a few feet from the building.

“Around 2:00am, I saw a fire at a transformer on the southeastern corner of the market,” said Nur Mohammad, a security guard. “I screamed and ran with my colleague Matiur Rahman to that place. Matiur tried to douse the fire using a fire extinguisher, but the blaze spread very fast.”

The market housed 543 shops, including those of kitchen and household items, furniture, clothes, electronic appliances, shoes and bakery.

Although some shop owners managed to save some items, owners of 309 shops at the collapsed portion known as DCC “Kancha Market” could not.

The collapsed portion first tilted around 4:00am and then gave way around 8:00am, witnesses said.

The fire came under control around 5:45pm. Over a 100 firefighters from 22 units took part in the operation, said Major Shakil Newaj, director (operation) of the Fire Service and Civil Defence.

Two units from the navy also joined the efforts within two hours after the fire broke out.

Firefighters were struggling to fully douse the flames till 1:45am today.

The extent of the loss is yet to be determined, but market committee officials put it at several hundred crores.

Sher Mohammad, chairman of the DCC Kancha Market Businessmen’s Association, said, “We are sure it was an act of sabotage. Otherwise, how could such a big building come down?”

But Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Annisul Huq ruled out any such possibility.

Asked to comment on the businessmen’s claim, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia avoided a direct reply, telling reporters on the spot, “Let’s douse the fire first.”

The fire service formed a seven-member committee to find out the cause of the fire. The committee will submit its report in 15 working days.

Thick, black smokes spiraling out of the building also entered adjacent markets and houses.

Shopkeepers at the nearby Gulshan Shopping Centre said some of their goods were damaged by the heat and the smoke.

By last night, goods of over 700 shops the Shopping Centre were taken out and kept on the street, halting traffic on Bir Uttam Mir Shawkat Road.

The first to respond were three fire service units from Baridhara. They reached the spot around 2:40am within 10 minutes of being informed, officials said.

But SM Talal Rezvi, chairman of another association of the market, claimed a security guard informed him about the fire before 2:00am.

The first responders ran out of water soon, he said, adding that had the other fire service units responded sooner, the blaze could have been contained before it spread to the other parts of the building.

Fire service Deputy Director Shomor Biswas said they could not douse the inferno sooner because of the collapsed part of the building. Firefighters could not enter it to contain the blaze.

Also, there is no open source of water nearby, which made it difficult for them to control the fire initially. Later, they used the water from the Gulshan Lake, about 700 metres           from the market, said Major Shakil Newaj.

“Fire service vehicles have fixed quantity of water. So when it runs out, we need to collect water from outside sources. It took us time to carry water from outside,” he said.

He also said the market lacked its own firefighting system.

But Md Salauddin, finance secretary of the market committee, said they had their own fire extinguishers. But the fire spread so quickly that they had no chance to use those.

As the firefighters were battling the fire in the morning, businessman Nurul Islam said, “It’s only a two-storey building on the main road and with lakes nearby. Why is it taking so long for them to douse it?”

His shop that sold various items, including crockery and clothes, has been badly affected. But he could not give an estimate of his loss as he could not enter his shop.

Like him, a few hundred businessmen were staring helplessly all day as the fuming flames engulfed their shops, their means of living, one by one. Many tried to salvage whatever they could daring the blaze and smoke. Some could, but most could not.

Yousuf, owner of Bhai Bhai Confectionary there, said he invested all his life’s savings in the shop.

“It’s been burnt to ashes. I don’t know what to do now,” said the visibly broken man.

It could not be immediately known what compensation policy the market has in place in case of such an incident.