Factory fire kills 17, injures 25 in north Vietnam

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Seventeen people have been killed and 25 others injured in a fire that broke out in a leather footwear factory in the northern city of Hai Phong Friday.


The fire reportedly broke out at around 4.30 p.m. at the factory run by Bui Thi Hien and her Chinese husband A Phong in An Lao District, which is some 40 kilometers from the city's center.


Ten female workers and three males burned to death at the factory, while 25 others were rushed to a local hospital with burns, police said.


In a report published Saturday, VnExpress said another four had died in the hospital, bringing the death toll to 17.


Police have so far arrested six people while investigating the case, according to Pham Van Moi, spokesman of Hai Phong People's Committee.


Initial information is that the fire started when Le Van Bay and his brother-in-law, referred to as Linh, were welding its roof as ordered by Bui Thi Su and her husband Bui Duc Lang, who rented the factory to Hien and Phong.


Police said burning ashes from welding dropped on some spongy material, starting the fire.


The six people detained will be investigated for violating labor safety regulations, Moi said.  


Bui Thi Them, one of the survivors, told Thanh Nien that on Friday, Lang had hired two welders to fix the factory roof in preparation for a typhoon expected to hit the city later.


"We were then working and Hien, the factory's owner, tried to stop the wielders, saying that it would probably cause a fire, but the wielders still insisted on working," Them said.


Just a couple of minutes after they started wielding, the ashes dropped on some fabric, starting the fire, she said, adding that it spread very fast because there was lot of leather, cloth and glue in the factory.


"The blaze blocked the front door and there was no door in the back," Them said.


According to the 39-year-old worker, she managed to push away motorbikes parked at the door to escape and used water to extinguish the fire there so others could escape as well.


"Many people who were in the middle of the factory couldn't escape due to the big fire and thick smoke and were burned to death," she added.


She said the workers got asalary of VND2 million (US$97.18) per month with no contract or insurance.


Nguyen Van Tien, who lives next to the factory, said that the fire broke out around 4 p.m.


"At first I saw smoke, several people rushed out and the fire flared up just a couple of minutes later. About 20 people ran out of the factory, and they were heavily burned," he said.


According to Tien, the factory, which covers some 150 square meters some 40 kilometers from the city's center, went into operation more than one month or so ago and usually had around 40 workers inside.


Moi said the city will also order inspections of all footwear and sewing factories across the city to prevent similar accidents in the future.


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