Firefighters work to contain a fire that broke out at a commercial complex in Dhaka [Mahmud Hossain Opu/AP]

People dining out and shopping suffocated or jumped to their deaths as firefighters battled for hours to douse the flames.

A massive blaze in a six-storey shopping mall in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, has killed at least 45 people and wounded dozens.

The fire, which struck Green Cozy Cottage Shopping Mall late on Thursday, started in a biryani restaurant on the first floor, with 13 units of firefighters battling for two hours to douse the flames.

Doctors said most of the dead suffocated, with others dying as they jumped off the building. Dozens of people are being treated for burn wounds in two state-run hospitals.

Brigadier General Main Uddin, a top fire service official, said that the fire could have originated from a gas leak or stove. “It was a dangerous building with gas cylinders on every floor, even on the staircases,” he told reporters.

Relatives gathered at the hospital early on Friday to receive the bodies of the dead, with some mourning outside the emergency department. Health Minister Samanta Lal Sen told reporters that he expected the death toll to rise.

People watch as firefighters work to contain a fire that broke out at a commercial complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh
People watch as firefighters work to contain the blaze [Mahmud Hossain Opu/AP Photo]

Survivor Mohammad Altaf recounted his narrow escape. “I went to the kitchen, broke a window and jumped to save myself,” he told reporters, adding that a cashier and server who urged people to leave during the first moments had died later.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed shock and sorrow over the incident, ordering officials to provide swift treatment for the injured.

The government has set up a five-member panel to investigate the incident.

Inadequate safety measures

Fires are common in densely populated Dhaka, where many new buildings have sprung up, many without adequate safety measures. Fires and explosions have resulted from faulty gas cylinders, air conditioners and poor electrical wiring.

In July 2021, many children were among 54 people killed at a food processing factory outside Dhaka, while at least 70 were killed in a February 2019 fire that engulfed a centuries-old precinct.

BANGLADESH RANA PLAZA ANNIVERSARY
Relatives attend prayers to pay homage to workers killed during the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse at Savar in Dhaka [File: Abir Abdullah/EPA]

The garment sector has been subject to intense scrutiny since a fire in 2012 and a building collapse in 2013 that together killed more than 1,200 workers.

But in other industries, mainly catering to Bangladesh‘s booming domestic economy and lacking equal emphasis on safety, hundreds of people have died in fires. — AlJazeera/NewsAgencies

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