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Officials said the fire broke out at night at a chemical warehouse on the ground floor of a four-storey building, Hazi Wahed Mansion, behind a mosque in Old Dhaka's congested Chawkbazar on Wednesday night. They said the fire also set off explosions in fuel tanks of some of the vehicles that got stuck in traffic in front.

The death toll now sits at 70 but fire officials expect it to rise as the fire tore through the building and leapt to four others, some of which also stored chemicals, at the tight intersection.

Some of the warehouses consumed by the flames stored risky products, including highly combustible chemicals, body sprays and plastic granules, all of which exacerbated the fire, The Guardian reported.

Bangladesh's fire service chief Ali Ahmed said the blaze may have started with a gas cylinder before spreading through the building where chemicals were stored.

The fire is believed to have started when a fuel cylinder exploded in a auto at Chawkbazar in the old Mughal part of the capital.

Sen said at least nine of the critically injured people were being treated in his unit.

The fire brings back to mind the devastating fire that had broken at Nimtoli in the old town in 2010 killing 124 people and injuring 200 others.

At least 69 people have been killed in the massive blaze, fire officials said, adding that the death toll could rise further as dozens of people were trapped in the buildings and the fire fighters were yet to enter into the main spot where the fire broke out.

"People could not escape", Ahmed said.

A duty officer for the Dhaka fire department said authorities had earlier counted 81 dead.

Fire trucks had struggled in the narrow streets to reach the scene and there was also a lack of water for the battle, officials said.

"So far, 70 bodies have been recovered".

Members of a bridal party in a nearby community centre were caught in the fire and many were injured along with customers in small restaurants, police said. The first floor of the building was being used as a warehouse of plastic goods, cosmetics and perfume.

"When I was at the pharmacy I heard a big bang", Haji Abdul Kader told AFP.

The Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 killed more than 1,100 garment workers.