" There's a barrier on every floor."
"Look at these window grills. These are absolutely banned."
"This is just like the Tajrin fire."
These were some of the very first observations of a team from Electronic Safety and Security Association of Bangladesh (Essab).
They had just entered the desolation known formerly as Shezan juice factory in Narayanganj, where a fire on Friday took the lives of 49 workers, who had lost their bet to live to the industrial culture of lackadaisical enforcement of safety and fire prevention measures.
Sajeeb Group Chairman Md Abul Hashem yesterday claimed that he didn't personally start the fire, which sounds ironic amidst this devastation.
The inspection team from Essab, however, would differ in that view.
Charred walls were still hot to the touch; plumes of smoke continuing to rise more than 48 hours later and barely a whisper of wind inside the factory premises speak volumes of what happened inside this factory on Thursday.
The inspection team prodded the piles of melted plastic now in an agglomerated mass. They examined the thousands of burnt cartons, plastic bottles, plastic sachets and stacks of prettily-wrapped lollipops now conjoined together in grotesque displays.
Plastic. Plastic was the main culprit, a member of the team observed.
The windows, which either the fire or the workers broke to save their lives, brought in light to the darkened factory floors.
The stairs, once tiled with white marble, were now cracked and burnt beyond recognition. Climbing the steps, the floors only got darker.
Until you reached the roof. Over there, refuge could have been found. Only if such a refuge was not so cruelly blocked off behind locked steel barriers.
A fire official, Emon, said all lives could have been saved had the workers been allowed access to the roof.
"We rescued 25 people from the roof on the first day. Had more been allowed, more lives would have been saved," he said.
He mentioned that the nearby ponds and water bodies, natural elements we are so quick to encroach upon, helped put the fire faster. "We can only carry 2,000 litres at a time. Without these ponds, we would have been fighting for days."
The ponds, however, were happy boons of nature. The factory authority did not have anything to create those.
Indeed, while the factory authorities could not be asked to answer questions about their culpability, the haphazard or careless arrangements of the factory floor, the lack of safety equipment or any thought for the security of the workers, would bring the word 'manslaughter' to mind.
"There are no sprinklers, no hydrants, no evacuation plans. No regulation seems to have been followed here," Engineer Mohammad Monzur Alam, vice president of Essab, said.
With a sad smile, he said they heard each of the floors were locked so employees couldn't steal the lollipops and juices they produced with their tired hands and dazed minds.
"According to the law, you must have four staircases. Not just one," he said pointing to the sole emergency exit, which also was a makeshift one.
He pointed to the lack of exhaust fans. "All basic rules were violated."
Asked how a factory could carry on with such obvious violations, he said he was perplexed as well. He, too, did not know how or whether the factory's blueprints had been approved.
Another fire service official asked how one building functioned as both a production unit and also as a storage.
In these soot filled halls, answers were not forthcoming. No factory official could be seen. Gossips and rumours flourished in the entire atmosphere. The simplest explanations are often the right ones: there was no conspiracy here; just carelessness and incompetence.