Saturday 22 July 2017

Thirty Iranian firefighters die as blaze brings down building

A firefighter consoles his comrade after the collapse of Iran's oldest high-rise, the 15-storey Plasco building in downtown Tehran. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A firefighter consoles his comrade after the collapse of Iran's oldest high-rise, the 15-storey Plasco building in downtown Tehran. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Amir Vahdat in Tehran

A high-rise building in the heart of the Iranian capital Tehran caught fire and collapsed, killing at least 30 firefighters and leaving their stunned colleagues and bystanders weeping in the streets.

The disaster at the 17-storey Plasco building, captured live on state-run television, came after authorities said they repeatedly warned tenants about blocking stairwells with fabric from cramped garment workshops on its upper floors.

Firefighters, soldiers and other emergency responders dug through the debris into the night in the hope of finding survivors.

While it was not clear how many people were in the building, witnesses said many had slipped through a police cordon while the fire burned to go back inside for their belongings.

“They asked us using loudspeakers to evacuate the building, but some people went inside again, saying their precious documents, their bank cheques, their entire life was in their shops,” witness Masoud Hosseini said.

“I felt like they cared about their belongings and money more than their lives. Firefighters went inside to bring them out, and then suddenly the building collapsed.”

Firefighters battle a blaze that engulfed Iran's oldest high-rise, the 15-storey Plasco building in downtown Tehran. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Firefighters battle a blaze that engulfed Iran's oldest high-rise, the 15-storey Plasco building in downtown Tehran. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Iranian authorities did not immediately release definitive casualty figures, which is common in unfolding disasters.

Iran’s state-run Press TV announced the firefighters’ deaths, without giving a source for the information.

Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said the bodies of more than 20 firefighters had been recovered by last night.

State television said 30 civilians were injured, while the state-run IRNA news agency reported that 45 firefighters had been injured.

Firefighters began battling the blaze some three-and-a-half hours before the collapse. The fire appeared to be the most intense on the upper floors, the site of workshops where tailors cooked for themselves and used old kerosene heaters for warmth.

The building came down in seconds. One side collapsed first, tumbling perilously close to a firefighter perched on a ladder and spraying water on the blaze.

The building is situated near the British embassy, which has  reportedly been evacuated following the collapse.

President Hassan Rouhani has ordered Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli to investigate the disaster.

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