Malaysian school fire may not have been accident
Malaysian authorities said on Friday they had not ruled out foul play in a fire that killed 23 children and teachers in a religious school, as calls mounted for better safety regulations in Islamic study centers, Agence FrancePresse reports.
The fire broke out in the boarding school in downtown Kuala Lumpur before dawn on Thursday. Firefighters extinguished the blaze within an hour, but not before it had gutted the school’s topfloor dormitory.
Officials initially said they believed the blaze was caused by an electrical short circuit or a mosquito-repelling device, but Khirudin Drahman, director of Kuala Lumpur’s fire and rescue department, told AFP that authorities were now investigating claims gas cylinders could have played a role.
“We have not ruled out foul play,” Khirudin said. “The forensic team is doing the laboratory tests. We want to wrap up the results as soon as possible.”
Horrific accounts emerged of students crying out in desperation and sticking their hands through the metal security bars surrounding the dormitory as the fire took hold, with neighbors looking on helplessly. Some managed to escape by breaking through a grille and jumping out or sliding down drain pipes. A handful are being treated in hospital. One of the survivors said two cylinders were left by the dormitory door and had caught fire, preventing those inside from leaving.
Azzarudin Roslan, who was among those who broke open the window grill, could not believe most of his friends perished in the fire, The Star newspaper reported. Still visibly shaken, he remembers hearing the distinct hiss of a gas leak. “Everyone was afraid and was rushing to find a way out,” said the 15-year-old.
Ustaz Mohd Arif Mawarty, 24, was asleep on the first floor when he heard a loud hissing sound coming from one of the rooms. He said the noise was like a storm and he shouted for the other teachers staying on the floor to get out. Mohd Arif said the fire spread very fast and they did not have enough water to fight the blaze.
“I tried to reach the top floor but the flames were too big. We felt helpless. There was nothing we could do,” he said, adding that he found it strange there were gas cylinders on the top floor. “Usually it’s green gas cylinders used by the school but the ones placed on the top floor were yellow,” he said.
Muhammad Danial Amru AlHaz Ali said the raging fire was just too strong to fight. “I could not go back and help my friends who were crying for help,” said the 16-year-old. When the fire started, he said, their room quickly filled with smoke. Muhammad Danial was asleep, but woke up to see his friends frantically trying to find a way out. He said he only managed to escape because his bed was located near a window.
“My friends who were near the door were not so lucky,” he said.
With a few others, Muhammad Danial managed to break open the window and grill to get out.
“We then climbed down using the pipes to safety,” he said.
At a hospital, hearses carried some of the schoolboys’ bodies to a small Islamic prayer hall where they were to be prepared for burial, as anxious families waited, AFP reported. As medics finished identifying the badly burnt bodies using DNA tests, graves were being dug at a graveyard outside Kuala Lumpur where some of the victims were expected to be buried later on Friday. At the burial site, 12 graves were being prepared and chairs had been set up for family members.
Gravedigger Nasri Mustapha, 42, told AFP he felt a “deep sense of sorrow, anger and helplessness,” adding: “The children died hugging one another.”
The Star said there were 1,034 blazes at registered and unregistered religious schools between 2015 and August 2017, with 211 destroyed.
Surviving children tell horrific stories of fleeing while their friends die behind them Witnesses report seeing unusual cannisters in school and hearing hiss of escaping gas