Kader Toy Factory Fire

On May 10, ten years ago, the worst factory fire in history took place at the Kader Industrial toy factory on the outskirts of the Thai capital of Bangkok.

Officially 188 workers, most of them young women from impoverished rural families, died in the blaze. Another 469 were injured; many seriously and permanently, after they were forced to leap from second, third and fourth floors of the buildings to avoid being burnt to death.

Hundreds of workers were packed into each of the three buildings that collapsed. There were no fire extinguishers, no alarms, no sprinkler systems and the elevated walkways between the buildings were either locked or used as storage areas. The buildings themselves were death traps, constructed from un-insulated steel girders that buckled and gave way in less than 15 minutes. Those who attempted to flee through the narrow ground floor exits found them jammed shut.

Security guards in the vicinity of the fire tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the flames before they called the local police fire brigade at 4:21 p.m. Authorities received two more calls, at 4:30 p.m. and 4:31 p.m. The Kader facility is just beyond the jurisdictional boundaries of Bangkok, but fire apparatus from Bangkok, as well as apparatus from Nakhon Pathom Province, responded.

As the workers and security guards tried in vain to extinguish the fire, the building began filling with smoke and other products of combustion. Survivors reported that the fire alarm never sounded in Building One, but many workers grew concerned when they saw smoke on the upper floors. Despite the smoke, security guards reportedly told some workers to stay at their stations because it was a small fire that would soon be under control.

The fire spread rapidly throughout Building One, and the upper floors soon became untenable. The blaze blocked the stairwell at the south end of the building, so most of the workers rushed to the north stairwell. This meant that approximately 1,100 people were trying to leave the third and fourth floors through a single stairwell.

The first fire apparatus arrived at 4:40 p.m., their response time having been extended because of the relatively remote location of the facility and the gridlock conditions typical of Bangkok traffic. Arriving fire-fighters found Building One heavily involved in flames and already beginning to collapse, with people jumping from the third and fourth floors.