DHAKA, Bangladesh — At least 39 people were killed and hundreds more suffered burns when a fire at a container depot in Bangladesh set off a series of explosions, officials said on Sunday.
Many people were in critical condition in hospital burn wards, according to local officials, who feared the death toll would rise. By noon, firefighters were still trying to contain the blaze, which began around 10:45 p.m. Saturday at B.M. Container Depot in the town of Sitakunda, about 10 miles from Chattogram, Bangladesh’s main port.
After the first firefighters arrived, a large explosion rocked the depot, causing the flames to spread. At least five firefighters were killed in that blast, and 14 others were wounded, officials said. More explosions followed, continuing well into Sunday morning.
The cause of the disaster, at one of Bangladesh’s largest inland container depots, was not immediately clear. Attempts to contact executives at the company that runs the depot were not immediately successful.
Shahadat Hossain, the senior government official for Sitakunda, said that a large amount of hydrogen peroxide may have been stored at the depot, along with other goods. “We cannot say anything further right now,” he said.
Hundreds of people were admitted to Chittagong Medical College Hospital, said Dr. Mohammed Elias Chowdhury, the civil surgeon for Chattogram, which is also known as Chittagong. “Many of them are critical,” he said. “Some people have 60 to 70 percent burns on their bodies.”
Photos from the hospital showed wounded people laid out on the floor, waiting for treatment. Dr. Chowdhury said all leave had been canceled for doctors and other staff members at the hospital.
Hasan Mahmud Arafat, 25, a university student who volunteered to help at the hospital, said all beds in the burn units were full and that ambulance sirens had blared all night.
“I saw thousands of people come to the hospital to donate blood,” he said. “I saw locals come to the hospital with hand fans — they were fanning the patients who were waiting to get a bed or who were admitted to the makeshift beds.”
Mass-casualty fires have been a recurring problem in Bangladesh. In July, a factory fire in the city of Narayanganj killed at least 51 people.
Mujib Mashal contributed reporting from New Delhi.