TEHRAN, Iran, Jan 19, (AP): A historic high-rise building in the heart of Iran’s capital caught fire and later collapsed Thursday, killing at least 30 firefighters and leaving their stunned colleagues and bystanders weeping in the streets. The disaster at the 15-story Plasco building, inadvertently shown live on state television, came after authorities said they repeatedly warned tenants about blocking stairwells with fabric from cramped garment workshops on its upper floors. Firefighters, soldiers and other emergency responders dug through the debris into the night, looking for survivors. While it was not clear how many people were in the steel-and-concrete building, witnesses said many had slipped through a police cordon while the fire burned to go back inside for their belongings.
“They asked us … using loudspeakers to evacuate the building, but some people went inside again, saying their precious documents, their bank checks, their entire life was in their shops,” said witness Masoud Hosseini. “They went inside to fetch those documents. I felt like they cared about their belongings, checks and money more than their lives. “Firefighters went inside to bring them out, and then suddenly the building collapsed,” Hosseini said. Iranian authorities did not immediately release definitive casualty figures, which is common in unfolding disasters. Iran’s state-run Press TV announced the firefighters’ deaths, without giving a source for the information. Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said more than 20 bodies of firefighters had been recovered by Thursday night.