A historic building in the heart of Tehran, Iran, caught fire and later collapsed Thursday, killing at least 30 firefighters. The disaster at the 17-story Plasco building came after authorities said they repeatedly warned tenants about blocking stairways with fabric from cramped garment workshops on its upper floors.
Firefighters, soldiers and other emergency responders dug through the debris into the night, looking for 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 checks, their entire life was in their shops,” said witness Masoud Hosseini. “They went inside to fetch those documents. I felt like they cared about their belongings, checks and money more than their lives.”
Firefighters began battling the blaze around 8 a.m., some 3.30 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, shown live on state television , which had begun an interview with a journalist at the scene. One side collapsed first, tumbling perilously close to a firefighter perched on a ladder and spraying water on the blaze.