KUALA LUMPUR: Twenty-five people, mostly teenage boys, were killed Thursday when a blaze tore through a a religious school in Datuk Keramat, in what officials said was one of the country’s worst fire disasters for years.
The blaze broke out at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah tahfiz school, located in Jalan Keramat Ujung, just before dawn.
Firefighters rushed to the scene and the blaze was out within an hour but not before it wreaked terrible devastation — pictures in local media showed ash-covered, fire-blackened beds.
“The number of confirmed dead are 23 students and two wardens,” Khirudin Drahman, director of Kuala Lumpur’s fire and rescue department told AFP.
“It really does not make sense for so many to die in the fire.”
“They could have died due to smoke inhalation or got trapped in the fire.
“I think it is one of the country’s worst fire disasters in the past 20 years. We are now investigating the cause of the fire.
A fire department official at the scene said that the blaze broke out in bedrooms before dawn, and firefighters from a nearby station were on the scene within minutes.
“The children were desperately trying to escape the flames,” Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said in a television interview.
“There were metal grills which prevented them from exiting the burning building.”
Kuala Lumpur Police chief Amar Singh said that “the bodies were totally burned”.
“Unfortunately there was only one entrance, so they could not escape. All the bodies were found lumped on one another.”
The Star reported that people in the area who had woken for morning prayers heard cries for help and saw flames engulfing the top floor of the building, where children were sleeping in dorms.
Loga Bala Mohan, the federal territories deputy minister, said: “We sympathise with the families. It is one of the worst fires involving so many lives in the capital in recent years.
“We urgently want the authorities to quickly probe the cause of the deadly fire so that we will be able to prevent future disasters.”
Fire safety concerns
Fire department officials said 23 students and two teachers were killed in the blaze. City police chief Amar Singh said the victims who were students were all boys aged between 13 and 17.
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.
“The religious school did not have a operating licence from the local authorities,” he said. “The school also does not have any licence from the local religious authorities.”
“There are many other religious schools (that operate illegally) in the country.”
Tahfiz are religious schools where children study the Quran in Malaysia, where over 60% of the population of about 30 million are Muslim.
The Star reported that the fire and rescue department had raised concerns about fire safety measures at unregistered and private religious schools, and had recorded 211 fires at the institutions since 2015.
In August, 16 people including eight students fled an early morning fire at a family-run tahfiz in Baling, in the northern state of Kedah, the paper reported.
There were 519 tahfiz schools registered across the country as of April, but many more are believed to be unregistered, the paper said.
In October last year, six people died in a fire that swept through the intensive care unit of a major hospital in the southern state of Johor.