It took 11 years, 6 fire breakouts, and 19 deaths to finally lock the gates to hell.
On paper, Prime Pet and Plastic Industries Limited seemed like an environmentally conscious organisation that cared about its workers and customers.
The company brochure and website claim it to be an efficient organisation that delivers "high quality products with the right touch of innovation." Its Facebook page has posts mourning the Banani and Chawkbazar fire tragedies.
Ironically, its own plastic factory in Keraniganj had been operating without any compliance or proper fire safety management since 2008.
The Dhaka district administration padlocked the factory gates after a massive fire broke out there on Wednesday, killing one worker on the spot, and 18 others at the hospital.
The 13 workers currently undergoing treatment at the Burn Unit of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) and Sheikh Hasina National Burn and Plastic Surgery Institute have over 90 percent burns on their body.
Dr Samanta Lal Sen, coordinator of the Sheikh Hasina National Burn and Plastic Surgery Institute, said he had never seen such severe burns on any patient in his 40-year career as a physician.
Alok Kumar Mandal, a fireman stationed at Keraniganj, said that in his six years posted in the area, he had participated in dousing four fire breakouts at the factory.
"The factory does not care about compliance. They were mostly busy managing the local influential people and politicians to keep running the factory," he added.
The factory had held a fire drill coordinated by the local fire service station just 15 days prior to the incident, said factory worker Samad Hossain.
Saiful Islam, senior station officer at the Keraniganj fire station, informed that they had doused a fire at the factory just six months ago.
Factory workers and locals complained that the authorities, who employed nearly 250 workers round the clock, operated in a rundown house of a residential area by "managing" government agencies, despite repeated break outs in the last four years.
'Skin melting off bodies'
Abdul Manan, 45, had been working the day the fire broke out, along with 125 to 130 other workers.
At least 60 to 70 workers were in the production floor when the fire started, Mannan said.
"It was around 4:30pm. I was at the warehouse, when I heard a deafening explosion. Within a few seconds, the floor was engulfed in flames. Unfortunately, the only door out of the shed was blocked by the fire," he recalled.
"They were coming out with burning faces. Their skins were melting off their bodies. The scene was horrible."
Mannan said the fire had originated at the gas room and the workers had immediately tried to douse the flames themselves as "they had done so in the past."
Fire Services and Civil Defence Senior Assistant Director Mohsin Mollah told The Business Standard that the factory did not have the proper safety measures and enough emergency exit doors.
"There was only one small door leading to the production room of the factory. That lead to the massive casualties, as most could not escape. The fire originated from an LPG cylinder leakage."
Visiting the site even four days after the incident, the signs of devastation were still there.
All the steel pillars and spans had bent due to the high temperature. The concrete wall and tin shed rooftop turned to ashes.
Burnt shoes and clothes lay strewn about.
More than 30 gas cylinders lay scattered in the factory, and huge amounts of molten plastic covered the store room adjacent to the room for storing gas cylinders.
Who to blame?
Local member of parliament and Power and Energy State Minister Nasrul Hamid, while visiting the injured workers at DMCH, said, "The deadly incident could have been avoided, had the government agencies executed their duties properly."
Md Kamrul Hasan Sohel, assistant commissioner (land) of Keraniganj and a member of the probe body formed by the district administration said they alone are not at fault.
"Before the incident, the district administration had operated a drive and found the environmental clearance to be okay," Kamrul said, adding that the district administration cannot shut down a factory without the directives of the fire service or the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment.
During an inspection two months ago, the factory inspection department could not find an approval certificates from the commerce ministry.
The inspection department's Deputy Inspector General Ahmed Belal said, "An inspection team had fined the factory for non-compliance on November 5, and we also filed a case against the factory."
When asked why they had not shut the factory down, he responded, "We filed a case against the factory owner and also warned him by sending letters. What else can we do?"
"All are now blaming the district administration – that is completely misguided. Both the fire service and the DIFE are equally responsible for this disaster," Kamrul added.
He said that only the district administration is authorised to check the environment related issues and can operate mobile courts.
When asked why they did not recommend any directives to relevant authorities or the factory owners, Saiful Islam, senior station officer at the Keraniganj fire station, said, "There had been no casualties at that time.
"Nobody had been injured or suffered any burns, which is why we did not make any recommendation."
Md Nazrul Islam, managing director of Prime Pet and Plastic Industries Limited could not be contacted over the phone. Nobody at his Dhaka and Keraniganj offices could give a clue about his whereabouts.
He had last been seen outside the factory on the day of the fire.