Bangladesh factory fire death toll rises to 52 as police open investigation

Bangladesh factory fire death toll rises to 52 as police open investigation
Several workers were killed when they jumped from the building after becoming trapped

At least 52 people were killed and 20 injured after a massive fire raged through a juice factory in Narayanganj, southeast of Dhaka, officials said on Friday.

The fire, which started late on Thursday on the ground floor of a six-storey factory building, was raging until Friday evening as firefighters scrambled to control it.

The cause of the fire is unknown. Police official Abdullah al Mamun told reporters that three police teams had been dispatched to probe the incident, and legal action against those responsible for the fire would follow.

Smoke billowed from the top floors of the building while some workers jumped out. A key exit from the working areas had been locked, said fire official Abdullah al Arefin.

“Three people died from jumping off the building to escape the fire, and 49 charred bodies have been recovered,” said Mustain Billah, the administrator for the Narayanganj district.

Some family members, like Nazma Begum, were still looking for their loved ones. “There is no justice! Where is my son?” Ms Begum cried out.

Dozens of family members protested outside the plant, demanding justice.

Mr Al Arefin said each building floor was only accessible by two stairways, which many workers couldn’t get to as the fire had spread there. Some escaped to the roof from the stairs, but many became trapped as a door leading to the roof was locked.

Mr Billah said firefighters struggled to control the fire due to chemicals and flammable materials being stored inside the building.

The factory is owned by the private firm Hashem Food and Beverage, a unit of Bangladesh’s multinational Sajeeb Group. Officials at both companies failed to respond to calls and emails seeking comment on Friday.

This latest industrial accident follows a string of incidents in the country, notorious for its poor fire and building safety standards.

In August 2016, more than 100 people fell ill in the southern city of Chittagong after inhaling gas leaked from a fertiliser factory.

Industry officials promised better safety standards after the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory building in Dhaka that killed more than 1,000 workers and injured hundreds. But standards at many factories still fall short.