Bangladesh firefighters comb blaze-hit skyscraper

More than 70 people were hurt in the blaze, which killed at least 19 people. [AFP]

Firefighters were combing through the charred shell of a Bangladesh skyscraper Friday where at least 19 people died in a high-rise blaze, with many having jumped to their deaths.

Flames tore through the 22-storey FR Tower in Dhaka on Thursday afternoon, trapping hundreds of office workers.

Some made it to safety by sliding down cables on the side of the building, but others took their chances and jumped in a bid to escape the choking smoke and searing heat.

At least six people including a Sri Lankan national died this way, officials said.

Senior fire service official Mohsin Ali told AFP rescuers were scouring the building, concentrating on the worst-affected eighth-to-tenth floors.

There was no immediate confirmation of the number of missing people, but more than 70 people were treated in hospital in the wake of the blaze.

The fire erupted on Thursday afternoon in the upmarket Banani commercial district.

Hundreds of onlookers gathered to watch as trapped workers screamed for help from smoke-logged floors.

Firefighters backed by military specialists -- some in helicopters -- tackled the blaze, lowering ropes to help people escape, while rescuers on long ladders smashed through windows.

Bangladesh authorities have ordered a probe into the incident, amid official claims that the skyscraper lacked fire equipment, its fire exits were inadequate and it had been illegally extended.

The inferno erupted barely a month after at least 70 people were killed in Dhaka apartment buildings where illegally stored chemicals exploded.

Fire disasters regularly hit Bangladesh's major cities where safety standards are notoriously lax.

According to a 2012 study by Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, most high-rise buildings in Dhaka have inadequate fire safety measures.

"We found only two buildings fully compliant," BUET professor Mehedi Ahmed Ansari said of the survey, adding some of the buildings they looked at were little more than "death traps".

A June 2010 fire in the nearby neighbourhood of Nimtoli, one of the most densely populated districts of the capital, killed 123 people.

In November 2012, a fire swept through a nine-story garment factory near Dhaka killing 111 workers. An investigation found it was caused by sabotage and that managers at the plant had prevented victims from escaping.