Updated at 12:21 p.m. ET on 2019-06-21
Three children were among at least 30 people killed Friday in an explosion followed by a fire at a house that was being used as a factory for making disposable butane lighters in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province, police said.
The blast was believed to be caused by a gas canister in the factory, said Riadil Akhir Lubis, head of the provincial civil protection agency. Photographs distributed by the agency showed bodies burned beyond recognition as well as the blackened remains of the house located in Sambi Rejo village.
“So far 30 people have died. Everyone inside died,” Riadil told BenarNews, adding that the victims were mostly women. The children who died were not believed to be workers.
“According to locals, the children came with their parents who were working at the factory,” Riadil said.
Indonesia has seen similar deadly fires in the past. In 2017, at least 47 were killed in an explosion and fire at a firecracker factory on the outskirts of Jakarta.
As of late Friday, the flames had been extinguished and the victims had been taken to a police hospital in the provincial capital Medan for formal identification, according to officials.
Riadil said officials were trying to determine the employment status of the workers.
“Whether the factory is legal or not, we don’t know and there are questions about the presence of children there,” he said.
A wire service reported that three or four people were able to escape the fire, which began around noon, but Riadil said those people were not in the factory at the time.
Pipit, one of four women who survived, said she was out for lunch with the three others when she heard the explosion and saw smoke billowing from the house, the Tribun Medan newspaper reported.
“My friends, my friends they are all gone. They were all inside,” she said.
Bunjai police chief B. Naibaho said the victims were unable to escape when the fire broke out, according to Kompas.com, an Indonesian news website.
“Because they were at the back, the employees could not get out of the house because the front door could not be opened, he said, adding, “the windows were secured with iron grills.”
Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri said he was sending investigators to the scene to determine if the factory had followed safety standards and employment regulations.
“We want to make sure the employees are entitled to employment social security protection,” Hanif said in a statement to media.
Manpower Ministry workplace Director Amarudin said in the statement that the factory employed 50 people, nearly half of whom worked on a part-time basis.
Faisal Riza, whose wife Marlina died in the fire, said all of the workers were women, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
“I was walking to a mosque for prayers when I heard the factory in an alley just about 200 meters from my house was on fire,” he said at the hospital where bodies were taken. “I ran to save her, but it was too late. When I got there, the factory was burned down.”
AP described the house owner as an elderly woman identified only as Ros who told MetroTV that she had rented the property for the past four years to a businessman from Medan.
Another man, Sofyan, told AP his wife and 10-year-old daughter died in the fire.
“Only a DNA test can confirm the bodies,” said Sofyan, who uses a single name. “I want to bring them home soon regardless of their condition. I want to bury them immediately.”