Dhaka, Jul 9 (PTI) A massive blaze overnight that engulfed a multi-storied food and beverage factory on the outskirts of Bangladesh's capital killed at least 52 people and injured scores of others, authorities said on Friday, with many of the survivors blaming an illegally locked main door for the high number of casualties in the country's latest industrial fire accident.
Fire service officials and witnesses said the blaze broke out on Thursday evening and tore through the factory at the Rupganj area of Narayanganj.
Firefighters said many of those trapped jumped off the building to save themselves from the blaze. Casualty numbers could rise as many workers were unaccounted for.
“Fifty-two people have been killed so far but we fear more bodies are inside. A search operation is underway,” a district administration official told reporters at the scene, nearly 25 kilometres east of Dhaka.
Fire service officials said 49 bodies were recovered from the building site while others succumbed to their wounds on their way to or at hospitals, where many were being treated for critical wounds.
Residents in the neighbourhood said most of the factory workers were teenagers.
Survivors and relatives alleged the front gate, which is the only way to enter and leave the factory premises, had been locked since the fire broke out.
The factory building had no proper fire safety measures, according to the workers.
Details on what caused the fire, how many people were inside the factory and how many were still missing were not available.
It is suspected that the fire originated from the ground floor of the building and spread quickly due to the presence of chemicals and plastic bottles.
Television footage showed the fire was still burning at the six-story structure, emitting thick smoke while fire service officials said their search campaign continued alongside efforts to extinguish the blaze.
The severe heat from the blaze has caused cracks in a part of the building. The windows, including aluminium structures, were falling apart, with plumes of black smoke billowing out of the factory.
“The fire originated on the fourth floor where we nearly completed the search operation but we are yet to look for bodies on the fifth and sixth floors,” a fire service official told a private TV channel.
Hundreds of relatives of the factory workers waited outside the factory as the blaze continued to rage.
Officials initially reported only three deaths. The toll rose sharply after firefighters started recovering dozens of bodies of workers trapped in the upper floors of the plant.
“The exit point towards the rooftop of the building was locked when the fire broke out . . . many victims could have saved their lives if they could immediately take refuge there,” a fire service official said.
Deputy Director of Narayanganj District Fire Service Abdullah Al Arefin said it will take some time to fully control the fire.
“Until the fire is doused, it is not possible to say exactly how much damage has occurred and the cause of the fire,” he added.
President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have expressed profound shock and grief over the loss of lives in the fire.
A seven-member probe committee has been formed by the district administration to look into the incident.
Bangladesh has a tragic history of industrial disasters, including fire incidents at factories.
In February 2019, at least 70 people were killed when an inferno ripped through Dhaka flats where chemicals were illegally stored. Another fire in Old Dhaka in a house also storing chemicals killed at least 123 people in 2010.
Bangladesh imposed tougher safety rules after more than 1,100 people died when a garment factory complex collapsed near Dhaka in 2013, known as the world’s worst factory disaster. PTI AR NSA AKJ NSA NSA NSA