by Nazrul Islam in Dhaka;
At least 52 people were killed and dozens others wounded after a fire ravaged a food processing factory near the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, officials and firefighters said on Friday.
Firefighting official Abdullah Al Arefin said the rescuers pulled the bodied of 49 workers, charred beyond recognition, on Friday afternoon more than 20 hours after the fire broke out at the six-storey factory building of Hashem Food and Beverage Limited owned by Sajeeb Group.
Three others died on Thursday afternoon soon after the blaze engulfed the entire building after the fire broke out at the ground floor of the building.
The factory, located at Rupganj of Narayanganj district, used to manufacture juice, beverage, chocolate and other food items.
Arefin said flammable materials like chemicals, resin, plastic bottles, oil and papers fueled the flame to intensify making it difficult for the firefighters to easily bring under control.
He said the bodies were found on the fourth floor, and a search operation will be conducted soon after the blaze its completely doused on the fifth and sixth floor.
More than 25 workers were rescued on Thursday evening after they reached up to the building’s rooftop, Arefin said adding that more workers could be saved had they been to the roof top.
“We found the gate padlocked on the fourth floor trapping the workers inside the inferno to die,” he said blaming the authorities for the deaths of the workers. The building’s emergency fire exits were also shut, he said.
Relatives of the missing workers demonstrate in front of the factory building, prompting a clash between them and the police. The lawmen fired teargas canister to disperse the mob which tried to get inside the factory building amid the rescue operations.
Earlier on Thursday evening rescues found the bodies of two female workers who died after they jumped from the third floor, said Zayedul Alam, chief of the district police. The third victim died at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Many others had managed to escape the blaze on their own. Alam said.
Television footage shows survivors saying they broke open a padlocked gate to escape the blaze soon after they heard the fire alarm. The survivors said that the security guard refused to open the gate without the owner’s order. They said at least 1,000 employees were inside the factory when the fire broke out.
Fire Service and Civil Defence officials said 18 fire engines were working to douse the flames that had engulfed the entire building. The fire was brought under control in the early hours of Friday, but it flared up again in the morning.
The local administration formed a five-member panel to investigate the reason behind the accident. The panel was asked to report back in five days.
Deaths from fire at factories and residential buildings are common in Bangladesh thanks to lax implementation of law and corruption in inspection procedures.
At least 67 people killed in a fire at a residential building in the crowded old part of Dhaka in February 2019 followed by deaths of 25 others at yet another fire at a 22-storey commercial building in Dhaka’s Banani area in March that year. A fire at illegally built chemical storage on residential building in old Dhaka also killed 123 people in 2010.
Fire at the Tazreen clothing factory that killed 112 workers outside Dhaka in 2012 brought Bangladesh under international scanner, especially from western buyers which sourcing clothing from Bangladesh, over the poor factory safety.
Intensified safety oversight mechanism set up after the Rana Plaza building collapse killing more than 1,100, helped improve the safety standards at factories making clothing for international buyers. But the situation in other factories remained deplorable.