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24 killed in India building inferno

NEW DELHI, Mar 24 – Fire fighters in the Indian city of Kolkata blamed a locked fire escape on Wednesday for the high death toll from a blaze in a prestigious colonial-era building that killed 24 people.

In all, 240 fire fighters battled for eight hours on Tuesday to control the fire on a major commercial street in central Kolkata, capital of the state of West Bengal, state fire service chief Gopal Bhattacharya said.

Of the 24 dead, four were killed when they jumped out of windows while two more died in hospital, Bhattacharya said.

"The bodies of 18 others burnt to death were recovered from the staircase of the building. The door to the top roof was locked. They could have been alive if they had reached the roof," he told AFP.

Kolkata Mayor Bikas Ranjan Bhattacharya said the building which houses offices, upscale apartments, a popular restaurant and a clinic was a "heritage" structure, dating back at least 100 years.

"The damaged portion of the building will be razed," he said.

In February, nine people died in the southern city of Bangalore, some as they jumped from windows, when flames engulfed a tall building in the software capital.

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