A fire killed 24 people, mostly teenagers, trapped behind barred windows and a blocked exit in an Islamic school dormitory on the outskirts of Malaysia's capital early Thursday, officials said. Firefighters rushed to the scene after receiving a distress call at 5:41am and took an hour to put out the blaze, which started on the top floor of the three-story building, Kuala Lumpur police chief Amar Singh said. He said there were at least 24 charred bodies, 22 of them boys between 13 and 17, and two teachers. Singh said 14 other students and four teachers were rescued, with six of them hospitalized in critical condition.
The fire broke out near the door of the boys' dormitory, trapping the victims as it was the only entrance and the windows have grills, fire department senior official Abu Obaidat Mohamad Saithalimat said. He said the cause was believed to be an electrical short-circuit. A witness says she saw hands reaching out through the grilled windows and heard boys crying and screaming for help, but the fire was too strong for her to do anything, the AP reports. The Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah is a private Islamic center, known as a "tahfiz" school, for Muslim children to study and memorize the Koran. Many such centers are exempt from state inspections, and the Star reports that the school opened about a year ago without applying for a fire permit. (Read more Malaysia stories.)