18 young girls killed in Thailand boarding school dormitory blaze
Eighteen girls have been killed in a dormitory fire at a primary school in northern Thailand.
Many of the boarders had been woken by a fellow pupil but thought it was a prank and went back to sleep, officials and the girl who raised the alarm said.
The victims were aged between five and 12.
Five girls were injured in the blaze on Sunday night. Many survived by abseiling from a second-floor window using sheets tied together to form a rope.
The two-storey wooden structure which caught fire housed 38 girls, most of them belonging to the area's ethnic minorities. Fifteen girls escaped unhurt.
The cause of the fire was not immediately known.
Some of the students were not asleep when the fire broke out and were able to raise the alarm, said Rewat Wassana, manager of the Pithakkaiat Witthaya School, to which the dormitory is attached.
The kindergarten and primary school in Wiang Pa Pao district, just outside the city of Chiang Rai, has about 400 day students and boarders. It is about 500 miles (800km) north of Bangkok.
Rewat said the fire broke out in the dorm's lower level, which is used for activities. The upper level housed the sleeping quarters. It is one of the two dorms on the 20-acre (8-hectare) school grounds. The other dorm, which is located nearby and is for boys, was untouched, Rewat said.
"We have a teacher who sleeps with the girls in the dorm. She tried to help the students escape," Rewat told reporters at a news conference broadcast on local television.
An 11-year-old girl identified only as Suchada said at the same news conference that she had got up to go to the toilet when she noticed the fire downstairs, and ran to tell her friends in various rooms. But some of them did not believe her and closed the door on her to go back to sleep, she said.
"We remembered some lessons from Girl Scouts to tie cloth together to make a long rope and we climbed out of the window," the fifth-grade student said. "The teacher helped us. While the teacher was climbing down, the rope tore and she hurt her leg and waist."
A police official told the Associated Press by phone that apart from the 18 dead, another five girls were injured, including two who were in a serious condition. He said two of the bodies were so badly burned they were unidentifiable.
Firefighters took three hours to extinguish the blaze, and pulled survivors and bodies from the second-storey window of the wooden building.