A pre-dawn fire that broke out in a religious school in Jalan Datuk Keramat killed at least 22 students and two teachers.
Residents who woke up for the Subuh prayers in Kampung Datuk Keramat on Thursday morning heard cries for help. As they rushed out of their homes to see where the cries came from, they saw the Tahfiz Darul Ittifaqiyah on fire.
“We saw the fire at the window. It was still a small fire when they shouted for help. We could see their hands waving.
“We felt helpless as there was only one door. My brother-in-law tried to kick down the door but it wouldn’t open.
“He came down and the smoke was getting thicker. After 20 minutes, they were no longer shouting for help,” said Nurhayati Abdul Halim, who is a neighbour.
According to the Nurhayati, a group of women was at the scene first before other residents started arriving.
“When it happened, we were in a state of shock and too stunned to do anything as it was on the top floor. Maybe we could have helped if it was on the lower floor. Most of them perished,” said the visibly distressed neighbour.
“They are like my own children. I can’t believe this happened and they are no longer here with us.
“I met them every day. This was where we would exchange jokes. My children would also play with them,” Nurhayati added.
The Fire and Rescue Department rushed to the scene upon receiving a call about the fire at 5.41am. By then the fire had spread but they managed to bring the blaze under control in an hour.
At least 22 students and two teachers perished in the fire. Six others have been warded at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital in critical condition.
Speaking to reporters, Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Amar Singh said there were 36 students and six teachers in the building, with 14 students and four teachers surviving the blaze.
Except for a seven-year-old, the boys in the religious school were between 13 and 17 years old.
All the charred bodies were found on the second floor of the building, where the blaze is believed to have started.
The scene of the fire was grim, with horror, shock, and grief in full display. A woman, believed to be the mother of a victim, reportedly fainted outside the cordoned area.
Many family members of the victims were crying and making calls on their mobile phones as they waited for updates from firefighters inside the charred building.
Nine fire engines from four stations and several ambulances were at the scene.
Survivor Muhd Izzarudin Roslan, 15, said the students only realised that their dormitory on the third floor of the building was on fire when flames were licking its front door.
“I was sleeping when suddenly, I heard noises like gas leaking from a tank.
“When I woke up, fire had already engulfed the front door. Immediately, several of us started to try to wake up our friends.
“However, there were also several who did not wake up at all. It was chaotic, as we could not get out, as the front door of the hostel was already blazing. Fire had even spread to our beds,” Izzarudin told reporters when met at the scene.
He and several other students tried to put out the blaze using water but the effort proved futile as the blaze was raging.
He then broke a window, grabbed a pipe attached to the exterior of the building and climbed to the ground.
“There were only eight of us who managed to escape through the window. Several of my friends also fell to the ground in the attempt, including those who had fire on their hair and clothes,” Izzarudin added.
He said their two wardens who slept in the room on the floor had also woken up and tried to rescue the students, but perished with the others.
Meanwhile, City fire and rescue Department deputy director Abu Obaidat said they believe the cause of the fire could have been a short circuit.