UP IN FLAMES: A firefighter tries to control the fire at a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka on Saturday. Picture: REUTERS
UP IN FLAMES: A firefighter tries to control the fire at a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka on Saturday. Picture: REUTERS

DHAKA — A fire swept through a garment factory on the outskirts of Bangladesh’s capital, killing more than 100 people, the fire brigade said on Sunday, in the country’s worst factory blaze yet.

Working conditions at Bangladeshi factories are notoriously poor, with little enforcement of health and safety laws. Overcrowding and locked fire doors are common, but the cause of this fire was not immediately known.

The blaze at the nine-storey Tazreen Fashion factory in the Ashulia industrial belt of Dhaka started on the ground floor late on Saturday and spread, trapping hundreds of workers.

"So far, the confirmed death toll is 109, including nine who died by jumping from the building," said Mizanur Rahman, deputy director of the fire brigade.

Witnesses said the workers, mostly women, ran for safety as the fire engulfed the plant, but were unable to get through narrow exits.

"Many jumped out from the windows and were injured, or died on the spot," said Milon, a resident.

Unofficial sources put the number of dead at more than 120, adding that the toll may be higher. Most of the bodies were found on the second floor, Mr Rahman said.

Bangladesh has about 4,500 garment factories and is the world’s biggest exporter of clothing after China, with garments making up 80% of its $24bn annual exports.

This is the highest death toll to date in a Bangladeshi factory fire. In 2006, 84 people were killed in a blaze in the southern port of Chittagong where fire exits had been blocked.

More than 300 factories near the capital shut for almost a week earlier this year as workers demanded higher wages and better working conditions.

Reuters