A fire in an 11-story garment factory in Bangladesh killed eight people, including a ruling party politician and a top official in the country's powerful clothing manufacturers' trade group, as the death toll from the collapse of another garment factory building passed 900 on Thursday.
The fire Wednesday night engulfed the lower floors of the Tung Hai Sweater Ltd. factory — which had closed for the day — said Mamun Mahmud, deputy director of the fire service. The blaze, fed by huge piles of acrylic products used to make sweaters, produced immense amounts of smoke, he said.
The victims died of suffocation as they ran down the stairs, Mahmud said.
"Apparently they tried to flee the building through the stairwell in fear that the fire had engulfed the whole building," he said.
Had they stayed on the upper floors they would likely have survived the slow spreading fire, he 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," he said.
The blaze comes just two weeks after the collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza building, home to five garment factories, killed at least 930 people and became the worst tragedy in the history of the global garment manufacturing industry. The disaster has raised alarm about the often deadly working conditions in Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry, which provides clothing for major retailers around the globe.
The identities of the victims of Wednesday's fire showed the entanglement of the industry and top Bangladeshi officials. The dead included the factory's managing director, Mahbubur Rahman, who was also on the board of directors of the powerful Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. Along with him was senior police official Z.A. Morshed and Sohel Mostafa Swapan, head of a local branch of the ruling party's youth league.
Independent TV, a local station, reported that Rahman had plans to contest next year's elections as a candidate for the ruling party and had been meeting friends to discuss his future when the fire broke out.
It was not immediately clear what caused the fire, which began soon after the factory workers went home for the day and took three hours to bring under control. Mahmud speculated it might have originated in the factory's ironing section. Officials originally said the building also housed several floors of apartments, but later said it was just a factory.
The Facebook page of the Tung Hai Group claimed it was a sprawling enterprise with a total of 7,000 employees at its two factories and the capacity to produce well over 6 million sweaters, shirts, pants and pajamas every month. The group claimed it did business with major retailers in Europe and North America.
The country's powerful garment industry has been plagued by a series of disasters in recent months, including a November fire at the Tazreen factory that killed 112 and the building collapse.
More than two weeks after the building in the suburb of Savar came crashing down, workers with cranes and other heavy equipment were still pulling apart the rubble and finding more bodies. On Thursday, authorities said the death toll had risen to 930 and it was unclear how many more people remained missing. More than 2,500 people were rescued alive after the April 24 accident.