In the chaotic aftermath of the collapse, ambulances had to fight their way through onlookers drawn to the scene, some taking selfies in front of the rubble. Army conscripts were deployed to clear paths for the emergency vehicles.
The high-rise, the 17-story Plasco Building in the center of Tehran, housed a shopping center and garment manufacturers, and it was as familiar to most residents as the Empire State Building is in New York.
Built in 1962 by Habib Elghanian, an Iranian-Jewish businessman, and named for his plastics-manufacturing company, it was Tehran’s first modern high-rise and long stood as a symbol of the drive for modernization during the reign of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. After the 1979 revolution, Mr. Elghanian was accused of spying for Israel and was executed.
Firefighters said the blaze appeared to have started in the morning on the 11th floor before spreading to a floor below, trapping some of their colleagues inside. Firefighters on the ground stared upward as the fire advanced, apparently horrified by the predicament faced by those in the building. Two of them comforted a colleague, his face ashen, as he knelt, pointing at the building.