11 Sep 2016

Danger in searching remains of deadly factory fire

9:11 pm on 11 September 2016

A fire which killed at least 26 people at a food and cigarette packaging factory in Bangladesh has been extinguished, but smoke and risks of collapse are making further searching difficult, officials said on Sunday.

Bangladesh firefighters work to extinguish a fire that break out from an explosion in a factory in the key garment manufacturing town of Tongi, just north of the capital Dhaka.

Bangladesh firefighters work to extinguish a fire that break out from an explosion in a factory in the key garment manufacturing town of Tongi, just north of the capital Dhaka. Photo: AFP

Saturday's blaze was the country's worst industrial accident since the Rana Plaza building collapse of 2013 that killed 1135 garment sector workers, and raised further questions about Bangladesh's safety record.

"The building is hot and it is not possible to enter," said Ajit Kumar Bhoumik, a senior official with the fire department, early on Sunday.

"Also there are huge cracks in the building, so it is very risky to enter without precautionary measures."

He said the death toll from the blaze had risen to 26. Some feared it could increase further once search efforts begin.

The cause of the fire in the Tongi industrial zone about 20km north of the capital, Dhaka, was not immediately known although officials said a boiler explosion probably triggered it.

The blaze broke out as workers prepared to swap shifts in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Ministry of Labour and Employment government secretary Mikail Shipar said the government would investigate safety at all of the hundreds of factories in the Tongi industrial zone.

"We checked the design of this factory and initially it is our understanding that it was a one floor building and later the floor had been raised, similar to case of Rana Plaza," he said.

Mr Shipar added that an investigation would be carried out and if anyone was found guilty of negligence, action would be taken.

"I have already been asked to formulate a project to inspect all the factories in all four industrial zones in the country," he said. The location of the boiler in the building was also being scrutinized.

The fire is the latest in a series of industrial accidents in the South Asian country, which is the world's second biggest garment exporter behind China.

The Rana Plaza disaster sparked demands for greater safety in the country and put the onus on foreign companies sourcing clothing from Bangladesh to act.

The disaster led to the creation of two international coalitions designed to help fund improvements to building and fire safety at thousands of garment factories across Bangladesh.

One official on Saturday said that the government's focus so far had been mainly on garment factories, and less so on other industries, but that was now likely to change.

The blaze at Tampaco Foils caused the partial collapse of the factory building, which packages various items, including food and cigarettes, for several local companies and global brands such as British American Tobacco and Nestle.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs