ASHULIA, Bangladesh — A raging fire on Tuesday tore through a huge Bangladeshi garment factory that makes clothes for Western shops including Gap, killing at least 25 workers and injuring 100 more.
Many of the dead were killed after they jumped from the building in a desperate attempt to escape the inferno, police and witnesses said, while workers said some exit doors were locked.
The multi-storey plant in the industrial hub of Ashulia, 25 kilometres (16 miles) north of the capital Dhaka, is owned by one of the country's largest exporters, Hameem Group.
"Twenty-five people have been killed, 22 of them jumped to their deaths or fell while trying to escape the fire," Mohibul Haq, Dhaka district government administrator told AFP.
"The three other victims died after sustaining severe burns and their bodies were recovered on the 10th floor after the fire was put out," he said.
"We are still searching the 11th floor for bodies, the fire is still smouldering there because of the piles of clothing," he said.
The government has already launched a probe into the blaze, he said.
"Our initial investigations suggest the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit," Haq added.
One eyewitness, Rezaul Karim, told the local Sheershanews agency that the fire spread so fast it was like an explosion.
"There was an enormous blaze. It happened so quickly, everyone rushed to the side of the building to jump off. People at the bottom were holding out nets and blankets to try and catch them," he said.
Police at the scene said that at least 100 people were injured, many of them seriously.
"Some were injured in a stampede, some inhaled too much smoke," police sub-inspector Mostofa Chowdhury said, adding that some workers reported that exit doors from the building were locked.
Bangladesh has been hit by days of violent protests by angry garment workers over low wages, but police ruled out any connection between the protests and the huge fire.
Hazrat Ali, who works at the factory, told AFP that he had seen people jump from the upper floors of the 11-storey building.
"The fire originated at the canteen on the 11th floor and quickly spread. People could still be trapped because the factory often locked the exit gates," he told AFP.
Some 14,000 workers are employed at the factory, said Sunil Kumar Sarkar, a senior official at the Hameem Group, who confirmed that the group produces clothes primarily for American brands including Gap and JC Penney.
"We are lucky in some ways that the fire started during lunch break because many workers go outside at that point. But it is still terrible, and we are concerned some workers are still inside," he told AFP.
Fires due to short circuits and substandard electrical wiring are common in Bangladeshi garment factories, which use cheap labour to produce clothes that are often shipped to Western countries.
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