Unlicensed KL religious school fire kills 23 students, 2 teachers

This article is more than 12 months old

KUALA LUMPUR: Twenty-five people were killed yesterday when a blaze tore through a Malaysian religious school, in what officials said was one of the country's worst fire disasters in years.

The blaze broke out before dawn in the tahfiz - an Islamic religious school - in the heart of the capital Kuala Lumpur.

Pictures in local media showed fire-blackened beds, as horrific accounts emerged of the youngsters trying to escape the school as it went up in flames with neighbours hearing their cries for help.

Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said: "There were metal grills that prevented them from exiting the burning building."

Kuala Lumpur police chief Amar Singh said "the bodies were totally burned".

"Unfortunately there was only one entrance, so they could not escape," he said.

Initial suspicion that the fire was caused by a short circuit was premature, said one official.

Kuala Lumpur Fire and Rescue Department director Khirudin Drahman said forensic findings and the Energy Commission confirmed that the electrical circuit in the school's main switch was in good condition, Malaysiakini reported.

"Usually, if the cause is a short circuit, the main fuse box would 'kick', and it would take at least 30 minutes for the fire to spread," he said.

He said there may be other elements outside the building that may have caused the fire and investigations are ongoing.

The Star newspaper reported that people in the area who had woken for morning prayers saw flames engulfing the top floor of the building, where children were sleeping in dormitories.

Mr Khirudin said it was one of the country's worst fire tragedies in 20 years, while officials said 23 students - all boys aged between 13 and 17 - and two teachers were killed.

Mr Tengku Adnan said the religious school had been operating without a licence, while local media reported that officials had recently raised fire safety concerns about such private schools.

"There are many other religious schools (that operate illegally) in the country," he added.

The Star reported that the fire and rescue department had raised concerns about fire safety at unregistered and private tahfiz, recording 211 fires at the institutions since 2015.- AFP