Aftermath of Religious School Fire

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Clarification on several issues relating to the blaze at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Religious Residential School and updates on developments.

Death toll

It has been confirmed that 21 students, aged 11 to 17, and two teachers, who were also wardens at the centre, perished. Among the deceased were three brothers.

The bodies were sent to the National Forensic Medicine Institute at HKL.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam said at a press conference that the bodies were burnt so severely that DNA tests were required to identify them.

Injured victims

Six students and a Keramat resident who came to assist the victims during the incident are being treated at the KL Hospital.

Four of them sustained serious injuries while three had light injuries.

“Some have multiple injuries involving broken bones, fractured femurs, pelvic, lungs, liver…different types of injuries.

“We’re managing the situation. Some are in the ICU, some in the burns unit. We’ll do our best to save them,” said Subramaniam, adding that the ministry would provide counselling services to the families of the victims.

“We will give psychological guidance so that they can get through this tragedy. I pray they have the strength to get through this difficult time,” he said.

Cause of fire

Initially believed to be caused by a short circuit, Kuala Lumpur Fire and Rescue Department director Khirudin Drahman said the forensic findings and the Energy Commission confirmed that the electrical circuit in the school building’s main switch was in good condition.

“We found that the fire had spread in a strange and unusual way, quickly and in a big way. 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.

“Based on information from the victims who were saved (witnesses), the fire also started from outside the door of the hostel, trapping them in. In addition, there were two gas canisters there, which could have contributed to a bigger cause of the fire and it spread fast,” Khirudin said.

He added that the department believed there were other elements outside the building which caused the fire and a thorough investigation was going on.

The two yellow gas canisters have raised suspicion and questions as they were normally not placed on the higher floors since the students were not allowed to cook.

A staff of the tahfiz school, Mohd Arif Awardi, reportedly described the gas canisters’ presence as “peculiar” because the canisters were not there when he checked the area at 11pm the previous night.

“Gas canisters are normally placed on the ground floor of the school, and they are green coloured canisters, not yellow,” he said.

Fire trap

The bulding’s windows were fitted with grills that could be opened from inside.

In addition, there was only one door to enter and exit the building.

Several boys, however, managed to escape by breaking open a window on the top floor, climbing down a pipe fitted on the exterior wall of the building and jumping from a first-floor awning.

Safety requirements

The Fire and Rescue Department said the school had submitted its building plans in 2015. The authorities had briefed the school management on the necessary fire prevention measures.

The school, however, did not submit its mechanical and engineering plans for approval before constructing the building.

Hence, it was built without MNE plan approval and an inspection by the Fire and Rescue Department.

Interior renovations were carried out, with more dividers built. One exit was also closed off.

The double-decker dorm beds arranged too closely together may have also been a factor in preventing a swift escape for the victims.

Funeral

Funeral arrangements are in place for the 23 victims of the fire, with 23 hearses based at mosques around the city mobilised and graves being dug since yesterday.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom said 12 of the deceased will be buried at the Raudatul Sakinah cemetery in Gombak, one in Kelantan, another in Perak, and the rest in other cemeteries around Kuala Lumpur.

“All arrangements have been done and there will be six teams for each location to assist in the burials.

“As for families, we have put them up in two hotels in the city and we will contact them once the IPFN issues an official statement to us,” he said.

On allegations of foul play, Jamil Khir urged the public not to speculate and let the forensics teams investigate and come up with their findings.

The fire at the school for Quranic memorisation was the deadliest in almost three decades since the 1989 blaze at a religious school in Kedah that killed 27 students.


Earlier report: Sept 14, Fire at Religious School Kills 22 Students, Two Teachers