Fire at Thai school for poor girls kills 17

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Young Schoolgirls Killed in Thai School Dormitory Blaze

WIANG PA PAO DISTRICT, Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23 (Reuters) - Fire swept through a dormitory at a school for girls from poor hill-tribe families in Thailand, killing at least 17 and injuring five, police said on Monday.

The fire broke out late on Sunday as the girls, aged five to 12, slept at the Christian Pitakiatwittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai.

"Most of the losses were because the children were asleep," said district police chief Colonel Prayad Singsin.

RELATED: Photos from the scene

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Fire at Thai school for poor girls kills 17
Yupin Saw-wa cries as she holds a picture of her daughter, who died after a fire swept through Christian Pitakkiat wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Malawian Saw-wa, 33, (L) and Yupin Saw-wa, 28 who lost their daughters, cry near a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Malawian Saw-wa, 33, who lost her daughter, cries near a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Malawian Saw-wa, 33, (L) and Yupin Saw-wa, 28 who lost their daughters, cry near a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Malawian Saw-wa, 33, (L) who lost her daughter, cries near a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
A forensic expert inspects a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Forensic experts inspect a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Na-me Pratikili, 57, who lost six relatives, weeps near a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
A forensic expert inspects a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Na-me Pratikili, 57, who lost six relatives, weeps near a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
A woman weeps as she stands next to a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Forensic exports inspect a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Forensic experts inspect a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
A police officer inspects a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
A forensic export inspects a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Forensic exports inspect a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Forensic exports inspect a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Forensic exports inspect a burnt building at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
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Two of the injured were in critical condition, he said.

Forensic experts sifted through the debris and ashes inside the concrete shell of the school dormitory building on Monday.

Preliminary indications suggested a faulty fluorescent light on the ground floor may have been the cause, Sant Sukhavachana, a senior regional forensics officer, told Reuters.

A hot fragment fell onto a pile of clothes and started the fire, he said. The children likely died due to smoke inhalation, he said.

"There was a lot of smoke and the room where it happened was right below where the children were sleeping," he said.

A total of 36 children of the 142 that attend the school were in the dormitory when the fire started, said Pim Wasana, the head of the school, told Reuters.

The alarm was raised by a school cleaner, she said.

"I am at a loss for words," she said. "I don't know what I should do, but the only thing on my mind now is to try to find a way to ease the parents' suffering."

Namae Patikiri, a 57-year-old member of the Hmong hill tribe, lost six grandchildren in the blaze.

"Five of them had only moved here a year ago," she said, crying. "The other one had only been here for two weeks." (Additional reporting by Pairat Temphairojana and Panarat Tehpgumpanat; Editing by Simon Webb and Nick Macfie)

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