Around two months after the country's worst industrial fire in Ashulia, a blaze yesterday killed at least seven female workers at a garment factory in the capital's Mohammadpur.
The cause of the fire at Smart Export Garment Ltd near Beribandh could not be known. Witnesses said it began around 2:40pm in the storage space with a lot of flammable sponges there.
Like the fire at Tazreen Fashions in Ashulia on November 24 last year, which left at least 112 workers killed and around 100 others injured, workers at Smart Garment alleged that all exits at the factory were closed.
Both the collapsible gates were locked and there were no guards.
When they finally showed up and unlocked the gates, smoke was billowing out of the staircase, said some workers, adding that a stampede was inevitable.
Owner of a nearby tea-stall said when the gate was opened, a large number of workers tumbled to the ground just outside the gate in a desperate bid to save their lives. He said he along with some locals took away some injured and went into the factory to rescue others.
Sources said some workers jumped off the factory windows.
The dead were identified as Kohinur Akhter, Razia Akhter, Fatema Akhter, Nasima Akhter, Jyotsna Akhter, Nasima Begum, and Laizu.
All of them were pronounced dead after they were rushed to Dhaka Medical College Hospital and Zainul Haque Sikder Women's Medical College and Hospital in Mohammadpur, Manjurul Kabir, DMP deputy commissioner (Tejgaon), told The Daily Star.
Doctors at Sikder hospital said 11 workers were brought to the hospital.
Six of them were brought dead, said Anjan Lal Ghosh, an assistant professor (orthopaedic) and resident physician at the emergency section of the hospital.
He said the five injured bore stampede injuries and the dead had signs of smoke inhalation. The bodies were handed over to the families.
Many other were also injured but the authorities concerned at hospitals and clinics could not name them in their rush to treat the injured.
Nine fire engines took part in fighting the blaze and it took them over an hour and a half to get things under control at the two-story factory building, said Mahbubur Rahman, director (operations) of Fire Service and Civil Defence.
Deputy Assistant Director Masudur Rahman of the fire service, who led the fire-fighters, said. "When we reached the spot we saw the factory was engulfed in blaze. It means we were informed rather late."
Factory officials said they tried to control the fire themselves first and when things got out of hand, they called in the fire brigade.
Masudur Rahman said the sponges helped spread the fire fast and created toxic smoke.
He said they did not find any fire-fighting equipment at the factory, even though the factory officials claimed that they had such equipment.
Injured Rozina Akhter, a sewing machine operator having treatment at a hospital, said, "Suddenly, I saw the fire and we rushed to the staircase to get out.
"A big push from behind threw me to the ground. I lost consciousness and I can't remember anything else. When I woke up, I found myself at the hospital," she said.
According to sources, at the time of the fire, about 360 workers were at the factory. The factory, on over 10,000 square feet, produces men's trousers and jackets. The ground floor of the building houses a bakery and a few garages.
Although the name of the factory and the garment items found there suggested that it was an export-oriented one, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said the factory was not its member.
The fire service has formed a four-member committee to investigate the incident.
Altaf Hossain Sikder, father of victim Razia, filed a case with Mohammadpur Police Station last night accusing five factory officials of negligence.