Workers got trapped and burned alive in a devastating fire in Hashem Foods and Beverage Factory in Narayanganj on Thursday as collapsible gates on the staircases of its third floor remained locked, firefighters and survivors said.
Some 49 among 52 workers died in the inferno were found on the third floor, firemen said.Besides this, there are two doors on the rooftop. One of the doors remained locked. Those, who took shelters on the rooftop, reached through one door.
Firemen said if the factory authorities took necessary measures to douse the fire, so many workers might not die in the fire.
According to the Fire Service and eyewitnesses, when the fire broke out, the workers on the first and second floors came out of the factory through staircases. The workers on fourth and fifth floors took shelters on its rooftop.
But about 50 workers working on the third floor could neither go to rooftop nor outside through the ground floor as two gates of staircases—reaching rooftop and going to ground floor— remained locked.
Lt Col Zillur Rahman, director (operations) of the FSCD, told reporters on Saturday that they recovered 49 bodies on the third floor of the factory.
On the big number of the deaths, he said if the factory authorities took the fire incident seriously in the beginning, deaths could be lower.On the staircases in the factory, the officer said that the giant factory building should have at least four to five staircases, but it had only two.
Debashis Bardhan, deputy director of the FSCD, told reporters that there were two staircases reaching to rooftop and going to ground floor. “There were two doors of the rooftop. One of the roof doors remained locked while many workers took shelter on the rooftop through opened door.
He said they rescued 25 workers from the rooftop.
“If all the workers could go to the rooftop, they might be rescued,” he said, adding that doors of staircases on the third floor remained locked.
An inferno ripped through the seven-storey factory of Hashem Foods and Beverage Ltd, a sister concern of Sajeeb Group, at Bhulta in Rupganj upazila of Narayanganj on Thursday, leaving 52 workers dead and over 50 others injured.
Some 18 firefighter units doused the blaze on Friday night after struggling about 29 hours.
Imran Ahmed, who produced juice on the factory’s fourth floor, said Fahim, who had relations with him, worked on the third floor.
“When the fire broke out, Fahim phoned me and said they stuck on the third floor. He also said to me that the door going to ground floor remained locked and the door reaching to rooftop remained locked. About 50 workers stuck on the floor,” he said.
“Hearing his words, I went to the third floor and found the grill of the door locked. I phoned many of the factories, but none came to unlock it,” he said.
Sheuly Khatun, a worker of the factory, said that hearing the fire, she and many workers of the second floor came of the factory in a hurry, but her sister Hasi Akhter, who worked on the third floor, could not come out.
She said that they did not find her body.
Family members and relatives of the workers worked in the factory flocked around the factory to search for their dear and near ones while hundreds of other people also gathered there to see the incident site. The family members and relatives were showing their missing dear and near ones’ photos to Fire Service and police men aiming to know if they recovered their bodies or rescued in wounded conditions.
Meanwhile, a lack of necessary staircases has been blamed for the trapped condition of the workers in the fire-ravaged factory building.
“If there were more emergency exit staircase in the building, this death would not have happened,” said Director (operation) of the Fire Service and Civil Defense Lieutenant Colonel Zillur Rahman.
He said the building is about 35,000 square feet. The building needed to have at least four to five stairs. But in this big building they found only two stairs.
“The first exit staircase was in the fire. At the beginning it was closed. As a result, no one could go there. We thought that those trapped inside could not go near the second staircase due to heat and smoke. That’s why the workers could not get out that way,” he added.
He also said the building was filled with goods from the first floor to the sixth floor. Net has been used on every floor of the building, why the fire service personnel provided water to put out the fire but it could not reach all the places. Due to this, it was too late to put out the fire.
Asked what fire safety equipment he had seen in the building and whether it was adequate, he said he did not see anything.
“When we will conduct the final investigation, we will check whether the building had fire safety equipment as per Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC) or if there was an exit according to the size of the building in case of fire, with which the officers and workers can get out safely.”
He claimed that the fire service had provided safety license to the building authority after proper inspections and warned about the safety issues after inspecting again years later.
“After inspection, we informed them on paper to take security measures as per Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC). If the issues had remained unchecked even then it is the responsibility of the management,” he added.
Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Shah Nusrat Jahan said, “We heard from the workers that the fourth-floor was ere locked. If that floor had not been locked, many lives might have been saved.”
The fire killed at least 52 workers, mostly women, and wounded more than 50 others.