A massive fire at a container depot near a port city in southeastern Bangladesh has left at least 38 people dead and more than 100 injured, officials and local media reported Sunday, as firefighters struggled to bring the blaze under control.
The fire at the BM Inland Container Depot, a Dutch-Bangladesh joint venture, broke out around midnight on Saturday after explosions in a container full of chemicals. The cause of the fire could not be immediately determined. The depot is located near the main seaport of Chittagong, 216 kilometers southeast of the capital Dhaka.
The dead were at least five firefighters, according to Brig.-Gen. Main Uddin, Director General of Bangladesh Fire and Civil Protection. Another 15 firefighters were treated for burns, he added.
After the initial blast, multiple explosions took place as the fire continued to spread, Uddin said. Explosives experts from the Bangladeshi army have been called in to assist the firefighters. The explosions shattered the windows of nearby buildings and were felt up to four kilometers away, officials and local media said.
Firefighters were still trying to get the blaze under control on Sunday.
The death toll reached 38 on Sunday afternoon, according to Ekattor TV station, and the area’s civil surgeon said the number could rise.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her shock at the accident and ordered that adequate medical treatment be provided for the injured.
Bangladesh has a history of industrial disasters, including factories catching fire with workers trapped inside. Control groups over the years have blamed corruption and lax enforcement for these deadly incidents.
Global brands, which employ tens of thousands of low-paid workers in Bangladesh, have come under fire in recent years for improving factory conditions. In the country’s massive clothing industry, which employs about four million people, safety conditions have improved significantly following massive reforms, but experts say accidents can still happen if other sectors don’t make similar changes.
In 2012, about 117 workers died trapped behind closed doors at a garment factory in Dhaka.
The country’s worst industrial disaster occurred the following year, when the Rana Plaza clothing factory outside Dhaka collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people.
In 2019, a fire tore through a 400-year-old area filled with apartments, shops and warehouses in the oldest part of Dhaka, killing at least 67 people. Another fire in old Dhaka at a house where chemicals were illegally stored killed at least 123 people in 2010.
In 2021, a fire at a food and beverage factory outside Dhaka killed at least 52 people, many of whom were trapped inside by an illegally locked door.