Six migrant labourers were asphyxiated to death in an early morning fire in a furniture and upholstery unit near Kadubugere Cross on Magadi Road on the city’s outskirts on Monday.

Fire sources said all the young men, who were sleeping on the premises, were hired by S.R. Seating Systems. When fire broke out, the only exit from the godown was a shutter that had been carelessly locked from the outside. When Fire Services personnel reached the spot, they broke open the lock and also used an earthmover to force open the shutters that had expanded in the heat, to find the six men dead.

The victims are Sartaj (28), Shoaib (22), Noor Hassan (28), Ghazi (20), Usman (18) and Talib (24), all from Uttar Pradesh and working on contract at the unit.

Officials, quoting local people, said seven employees were working in the godown. One of them, Nadeem Khan (23), apparently went out for tea around 5 a.m. after locking the shutter from the outside as the others were asleep. He is yet to be traced.

Fire officials said they got a call around 5.30 a.m. from a neighbour and rushed fire tenders from Rajajinagar to the spot. The caller, Balaram, an employee of a shop selling mosquito nets in the same area, told The Hindu: “I was going towards my shop when I saw smoke billowing from the unit. When I went nearer, I saw the windows all ablaze and the shutter locked from the outside. I immediately called the supervisor of the unit but he did not take my call. Then I alerted the fire service.” The godown measures 50 feet by 50 feet and does not have any partition. It was being used both as a work area and for material storage.

The 11 fire tenders managed to douse the inferno around 9.50 a.m.

N. Shivakumar, Inspector-General of Police, Fire Services, said his men found five bodies in a sleeping position in one portion of the godown while the sixth was found in a corner. Mounds of highly inflammable material, including foam, cushions, wooden and upholstery material, which had caught fire, were ejected outside the unit during the fire-fighting exercise.

Anupam Agarwal, Superintendent of Police, Ramanagaram district, told reporters the victims died as they had no escape route. A case of criminal negligence has been booked against the owner of S.R. Seating Systems, Amit Rathore, who resides in R.T. Nagar.

TOO LATE: Firemen used an earthmover to break open the locked shutter at the Magadi Road furniture factory in

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