At least 30 firefighters lost their lives when Tehran’s iconic 17-storey Plasco tower collapsed after a fire ripped through the upper floors of the building's rundown shopping centre on January 19, Fars News Agency reported.
The Plasco building - constructed in the early 1960s in the heart of the Iranian capital for one of Iran’s wealthiest Jewish entrepreneurs by an Israeli firm, to the chagrin of local enterprises - in the early 1960s had in recent years become the venue for a wholesale bazaar for men’s clothes and footwear.
The blaze spread through the Plasco - considered Iran's first modern high-rise - from around 08:00 local time. Firefighters fought to douse the flames, but the building reportedly buckled under its own weight by 11:35 and came crashing down on top of those still trapped inside.
According to Mehr News Agency, some 70 people were pulled from the scene before the Plasco collapsed onto surrounding century-old two-storey shops. Dozens of shopkeepers are also thought to have been trapped in the blaze, but no exact number of fatalities has yet been given.
One firefighters told AFP news agency: "I was inside and suddenly I felt the building was shaking and was about to collapse. We gathered colleagues and got out, and a minute later the building collapsed."
Mayor of Tehran Mohammad Hassan Ghalibaf told reporters "Some 23-35 firefighters are still under the debris; their efforts were commendable as they headed into the building immediately they arrived." He then criticised the current owners of the building for not keeping the property in decent shape.
"The [current] Plasco board of directors had received warnings that the building would be easily vulnerable to damage if an incident was to occur," Ghalibaf said at an on-site meeting of Tehran's city council.
Investigators are probing whether the fire was caused by an electrical fault in the poor wiring of a small shop. The fire appeared to have broken out on the ninth floor.
Dramatic pictures of the inferno were shown on state TV. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose office is just down the road from the site, ordered an immediate investigation into the incident. He also reportedly stated that the government would compensate shop owners for the loss of their businesses.
Opened in 1962 as Iran's tallest building, the Plasco overlooks both the Turkish and British embassy compounds. It was seized from its original owner, Habibollah Elghanian, who was sentenced to death by the revolutionary forces at the start of Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979 after he was convicted of spying for Israel.
The building was named after Elghanian's Plasco family plastics firm. However, following the execution of Elghanian, who before the revolution was famous for building high rises in central Tehran, the rest of Elghanian's family fled Iran to the United States.
The collapse of the landmark comes only a couple of years after a set of shops across the road from it collapsed into a deep pit dug out for a new retail development that was to be built to their rear.
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