Timeline: Factory fires through history


Pakistani rescuers move the dead body of a garment factory worker.


Asif Hassan

Two separate factory fires, one in Lahore and the other in Karachi, have killed over 300 people in Pakistan, raising concerns about the government’s ability to safely regulate industrial environments.

However, factory fires aren’t uncommon, especially in the developing world where labor conditions are unregulated and often dangerous.

Here’s a look at some of factory fires since the 1900s, and the impact (or lack thereof) they had on labor conditions.

March 20, 1905: A boiler explosion at the Grover Shoe Factory in Brockton, Mass., causes a fire and building collapse that kills 58 people and injures 150 others. 

Impact: After another fatal Massachusetts boiler explosion the following year in Lynn, Mass. — this time at a shoe factory — the American Society of Mechanical Engineers helped to pass an act regulating the maintenance of steam boilers, passed in 1907, eventually resulting in a national safety code.

March 25, 1911: A fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City kills more than 100 garment workers, who died either because of the fire or by jumping to their death out of the burning building.

Impact: The fire helped the efforts of the International Ladies’ Garment Worker’s Union, which fought for better working conditions, and helped improve factory safety standards, leading to new laws and regulations throughout the United States.  

July 22, 1913: A fire at the Binghamton clothing factory in New York State kills 100 people trapped inside.

Impact: George F. Johnson, an industrialist in the area, installed automatic sprinkler systems and other protective devices in every one of his vast array of shoe factories.

November 18, 1968: A fire at Stern's upholstery factory in Glasgow, Scotland, kills 24 people after spreading to a tobacco warehouse, an ice cream factory and the Harland and Wolff engine factory.

Impact: Politicians in Glasgow promised it would never happen again. But it wasn’t until multiple other tragedies had taken place that fire regulations were actually changed.

May 10, 1993: A fire at the Kader Toy Factory in Thailand kills 188 and injures 469 workers, most of them women. The tragedy occurred primarily because exit doors were locked and the stairwell collapsed.

Impact: The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) dispatched a reporting team to Thailand to investigate the incident, revealing the extent of an initial cover-up by the Thai government. Analysts agree that the fire, which brought about local anger, didn’t bring about any lasting change — the conditions for workers in Thailand and other Asian countries have actually significantly worsened since then. 

February 1, 1997: A fire breaks out at the Toyota subsidiary Aisin Seiki in Japan. There are no casualties.

Impact: Toyota reduced the number of variations in its parts to ease production and reduce risk.

November 22, 2006: A fire at a leather factory in Kolkata, India kills at least 10 workers.

Impact: Fire safety licenses and insurance for leather factory workers were made mandatory, but according to reports, government officials do little to ensure those policies are followed by factories.

February 1, 2008: An explosion at an unlicensed fireworks factory in Istanbul kills 22 and injures 100. 

Impact: Istanbul’s Mayor urged citizens to report illegal factories to authorities, as regulation is very difficult to maintain.

April 25, 2008: A fire spanning the four stories of Rosamor Furniture factory in Casablanca, Morocco, kills 55 workers.

Impact: The regional commander of Casablanca’s civil defense was fired and a new fire policy is enacted. 

December 2010: A factory fire in Ashulia, Bangladesh kills 29 people.

Impact: The factory continued to operate for US brands such as Tommy Hilfiger. Little international attention was given to the incident, and a prominent labor activist was murdered to remind the community that pushing for better labor standards can be lethal.