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Fire in boarding school kills 17 in Thailand

School was run by a Christian charity for indigenous people in Chaing Rai province, media reported

Fire in boarding school kills 17 in Thailand

The fire at the Pitakkiat School dormitory, which is run by a Christian charity. (Photo from Wiang Pa Pao police Facebook page)

ucanews.com reporter, Bangkok
Thailand

May 23, 2016

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At least 17 girls were killed in a fire at a boarding school run by a Christian charity for indigenous people in northern Thailand.

Fire broke out May 22 night at a two-story boarding school run by Panthakijsooksan Foundation in Chaing Rai province.

Foreign media reported that the children were from poor communities who had been receiving free education and accommodation at the school run by a Christian charity.

Seventeen children were killed in the blaze and five teachers injured, according to the Thai-language Manager Online daily news service.

The fire started from the first floor burning through almost the entire floor, before spreading to the second floor, it reported.

Following the blaze, the injured were sent to Wiengpapao Hospital and to Chiang Rai Hospital. The bodies of the children killed are being kept at Wiengpapao Hospital for identification.

A Catholic priest working in the area told ucanews.com that there are many Christian and non-Christian groups running boarding schools for often marginalized indigenous groups in Chiang Rai.

"The problem is that not all of them are registered as boarding establishments. When they are not registered, the government find it difficult to enforce safety regulations," said the priest who asked not to be named.

As a result of this tragedy, "I think everyone has to get back to abide by the government rules," he said.

However, he added: "I would think that the government will now crack down on all registered charitable foundations running boarding schools."

The Catholic Church runs two schools in the province, administered by Chiang Mai Diocese. There is also another private school, run by lay Catholics.

Rawat Vasana, manager of the school told Manager Online that the building that caught on fire housed 38 girls between 4-12 years. About eight children live in a single room with one or three female teachers sleeping at the building plus a maid.

There were only a teacher and a maid taking care of the children because it was a Sunday, Rawat said.

Before the fire started the maid had gone for dinner at her house not far from the boarding school. 

The teacher didn't know how the fire started even though the building had a fire safety system, Manager Online reported.

The fire began from the first floor, which meant that the children could not come down from the second floor. The teacher, who was also injured, tried to help the children as much as she could by helping them climb down with a rope, it was reported.

Pim Vasna, director of Pithakkiart Witthaya School which is also run by the same foundation, told Manager Online that the burnt-down building was part of the school that housed 420 boys and girls from kindergarten to the sixth grade, 11 teachers and five other staff members.

Most of the children belong to indigenous groups from Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai provinces.

Chiang Rai is in the northernmost part of Thailand and is bordered by the Shan State of Myanmar to the north and Bokeo Province of Laos to the east.

A large part of the population in Chiang Rai belong to hill tribes, a collective term for the minority ethnic groups in north Thailand that include the Karen, Akha, Lisu, Meo, and Hmong.

*** This story was updated May 24 with new seventh to eleventh paragraphs with comments from a Catholic priest.

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