Photo by Associated Press
File this under “We wish we were kidding.” As the death toll from a building collapse in Bangladesh climbed past 900, a fire tore through an 11-story garment factory in Dhaka Wednesday night, killing eight, according to police and fire officials. The blaze swallowed up the lower floors of the Tung Hai Sweater Ltd. factory, producing massive amounts of smoke as it fed on piles of acrylic products used to make sweaters, Mamun Mahmud, deputy director of the fire service told the Associated Press. Although the facility was closed for the day, it was far from empty. The victims, who Mahmud said died of suffocation as they ran down the stairs, included the factory’s managing director, Mahbubur Rahman, a member of the board of directors of the influential Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. Also among the dead: senior police official Z.A. Morshed and Sohel Mostafa Swapan, head of a local branch of the ruling party’s youth league.
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Photo by Andrew Biraj for Reuters
A local TV station reported that Rahman had been discussing plans to contest next year’s elections as a candidate for the ruling party when the fire broke out.
The accident comes just two weeks after the eight-story Rana Plaza building, which housed five garment factories, came crashing down.
Had they remained on the upper floors, however, they would likely have survived the slow-spreading fire, he added. “Apparently they tried to flee the building through the stairwell in fear that the fire had engulfed the whole building,” Mahmud said. “We found the roof open, but we did not find there anybody after the fire broke out. We recovered all of them on the stairwell on the ninth floor.”
Fire personnel are still investigating the cause of the fire, which began not long after the factory workers left for the day. Mahmud speculated it might have originated in the building’s ironing section.
Tung Hai Group says on its Facebook page that it has more than 7,000 employees. It makes products such as sweaters, pajamas, and polo shirts for several major Western retailers, including Primark in the United Kingdom and Inditex of Spain.
The accident comes just two weeks after the eight-story Rana Plaza building, which housed five garment factories, came crashing down, killing at least 930 people and making history as the worst disaster to afflict Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry to date.