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Bangladesh Fire Kills At Least 70 People

A fire raced through the capital of Bangladesh on Wednesday night, killing at least 70 people and injuring dozens.

Fire officials say the blaze began in a partly residential four-story building in Dhaka as most people were sleeping.

The exact cause of the fire isn't clear. The BBC reports that it started at a chemical warehouse; however, The New York Times cites witnesses who said a compressed gas cylinder like the kind used for cooking was the cause.

Shopowner Haji Abdul Kader told Agence France-Presse he "heard a big bang," and then "saw the whole street in flames. Flames were everywhere." Kader's shop was destroyed.

The fire was fed by paints and other chemicals stored in shops on the building's ground floor, the Timesreports. It then spread to buildings in the centuries-old Chawkbazar neighborhood in Old Dhaka. Two of the buildings were so badly burned that officials feared they may collapse, according to CNN. One of the buildings was a warehouse for a perfume company, and the plastics and chemicals stored there quickly ignited.

The Associated Press reports that fire officials spent more than nine hours putting out the deadly fire. Many victims were trapped in buildings, one fire official told the AP.

"Many of the recovered bodies are beyond recognition," said Mahfuz Riben, a control room official of the Fire Service and Civil Defense in Dhaka. "Our people are using body bags to send them to the hospital morgue. This is a very difficult situation."

Major fires have become relatively common in Bangladesh. In 2016, a factory fire at a packaging factory just north of Dhaka killed at least 21 people. Chemical storage was also likely to blame for the quick spread of that fire, AFPreported at the time. In 2013, at least 10 were killed in a garment factory fire.

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Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").