Dhaka, Bangladesh — A fire swept through a nine-story garment factory in Bangladesh on Saturday night, killing at least 120 people. The fire occurred near Dhaka and took firefighters five hours to extinguish.
The blaze started at the Tazreen Fashions building about 24 kilometers north of Dhaka, reports The Wall Street Journal. Locals reported seeing panic-stricken garment workers jumping from windows as the fire spread. They also recalled seeing charred bodies being taken out of the blackened building.
Rina Khatun, a factory worker who survived the blaze, attributed her survival to being in the ground floor when the fire broke out. She stated, “Those who were on the top floors didn’t have a chance.”
Some factory workers reported that the building’s fire escape was blocked. They also stated that guards would not open the main gate to the facility, even after smoke engulfed the building.
Mahbub Hossain, a senior official with the Bangladesh Fire Service, stated that rescue work is continuing and the death toll, which currently stands at 120, will likely rise as firefighters make their way to the upper floors of the building.
Saturday’s factory fire is just the latest in a series of fatal accidents in Bangladesh clothing factories in recent years. More than 600 workers have been killed in incidents like this since 2006.
Garment workers, who make clothes for many popular European and United States including JC Penney and H&M, have been demanding higher pay and better working conditions. Owners were forced to close 300 factories temporarily in June because of clashes between workers and police.
Yahoo! News notes that the majority of those killed were on the second floor of the factory. Mizanur Rahman, deputy director of the fire brigade, stated, “So far, the confirmed death toll is 109, including nine who died by jumping from the building.” But the unofficial toll is at least 120.
Most of the bodies removed from the burnt-out factory were beyond recognition. Authorities have started burials while mourning family members frantically search for their loved ones.
Bangladesh is home to 4,500 garment factories. It is also the world’s biggest exporter of clothing after China. Garments make up about 80 percent of the country’s $24 billion annual exports.
Saturday’s fire is the highest death toll ever for a factory blaze in the country. A previous garment fire in 2006 killed 84 workers after in the southern port of Chittagong. Fire exits had been blocked, keeping many from being able to escape. Saturday night’s factory fire is believes to have been caused by a bad electrical circuit.