The blaze comes just two weeks after the collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza building, home to five garment factories, killed at least 950 people and became the worst tragedy in the history of the global garment manufacturing industry. The disaster has raised alarm about the often deadly working conditions in Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry, which provides clothing for major retailers around the globe.
The identities of the victims of Wednesday's fire showed the entanglement of the industry and top Bangladeshi officials. The dead included the factory's managing director, Mahbubur Rahman, who was also on the board of directors of the powerful Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. Along with him was senior police official Z.A. Morshed and Sohel Mostafa Swapan, head of a local branch of the ruling party's youth league.
Independent TV, a local station, reported that Rahman had plans to contest next year's elections as a candidate for the ruling party and had been meeting friends to discuss his future when the fire broke out.
It was not immediately clear what caused the fire, which began soon after the factory workers went home for the day and took three hours to bring under control. Mahmud speculated it might have originated in the factory's ironing section. Officials originally said the building also housed several floors of apartments, but later said it was just a factory.
The Facebook page of the Tung Hai Group claimed it was a sprawling enterprise with a total of 7,000 employees at its two factories and the capacity to produce well over 6 million sweaters, shirts, pants and pajamas every month. The group claimed it did business with major retailers in Europe and North America.
The country's powerful garment industry has been plagued by a series of disasters in recent months, including a November fire at the Tazreen factory that killed 112 and the building collapse.