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Two separate fires in two different Pakistani cities have killed nearly 300 people after two factories were overrun by flames, trapping many of the workers inside. Reuters puts the death tolls at 261, but that numbers is expected to rise as many of the victims are still in the buildings and have not been recovered.

The worst of the fires was in Karachi, where at least 236 people were killed in a large garment factory. Around the same time, a shoe factory in Lahore caught fire, killing two dozen more. Workers at the Karachi factory say the building was engulfed in minutes and escape routes were blocked off by locked doors and gates. The stories are sadly reminiscent of historic fires in U.S. factories at the turn of the last century, before workplace safety laws prevented owners from using tactics like locking workers inside during their shifts. The shoe factory may have also been set up illegally.

No causes have been given for the fires, but witnesses say the Lahore fire was sparked by generators near the front of the building that ignited the entrance. Unreliable electricity leads many business to try and generate their own power during the day.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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