DHAKA, BANGLADESH - A huge fire broke out in a Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh on Monday, destroying thousands of homes and killing several people, officials and witnesses said, in the worst fire in the area years ago.
Dark smoke and flames burned down shacks and tents as people frantically searched for their belongings.
"The fire, rescue and paramedics are on the scene trying to control the fire and prevent it from spreading," said Louise Donovan, a U.S. spokeswoman. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Cox's Bazar.
Mohammad Shamsud Douza, Bangladesh's deputy government in charge of refugees, said authorities were trying to control the blaze.
Rohingya refugees in the camps say many homes have been burnt down and several people have died, but neither the authorities nor the UNHCR can confirm the death toll. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.
More than a million Rohingya people live in camps in southern Bangladesh, many of whom have fled Myanmar in 2017 in a military-led attack by UN investigators who say they were killed "with intent to kill." Myanmar denies charges
A fire appears in a refugee camp in Balukhali in Box's Bazar, Bangladesh on March 22, 2021 in this photo posted on social media…
A fire was seen in the Balukhali refugee camp in Box's Bazar, Bangladesh, on March 22, 2021, in a photo taken on social media. (Rohingya Right / Md Arakani / Reuters Group)
Zaifur Hussein, a 50-year-old refugee who survived the blaze but lost his home and was living alone with his friends, said he believed that many people may have been killed and that fencing in the camps made it difficult to escape.
"While we were in Myanmar, we faced a lot of problems ... they destroyed everything," he said. "Now, it's happened again."
Snigdha Chakraborty, director of Bangladesh Relief Services, said she was concerned about the lack of medical facilities in the area.
"Medical facilities are basic, and burns require complex treatment. Also, hospital beds are already being taken by COVID-19 patients," he said. "There may be casualties, because the fire is too big."
The Rohingya leader in Cox's Bazar, a tributary of Myanmar in southeastern Bangladesh, said he had seen several bodies.
"Thousands of huts were set on fire," Mohammad Nowkhim told Reuters.
Another large fire broke out in the camp in January, destroying homes but causing no danger.
The risk of fire in crowded camps is high, and Monday's fire was the largest, said Onno van Manen, national director of Save the Children in Bangladesh.
"It is another tragedy for the Rohingya refugees living here. A few days ago, we lost one of our health facilities in another fire," he said.
UNHCR said social partners have recruited hundreds of volunteers from nearby camps to do support work, as well as fire safety vehicles and equipment.