A tragic fire claimed the lives of 18 young girls, ages 5-12, at a primary school in the Wiang Pa Po district just outside the city of Chiang Rai in northern Thailand last night. The 11:00 p.m. blaze started on the first floor of a wooden two-story girls dormitory at the private Pithakkaiat Witthaya School. Approximately 400 students, mostly poor children from local tribes, attend grades pre-K through 6 at the five year old school, located 500 miles from Bangkok. The dorm housed 38 girls in total. In addition to the 18 young lives lost, 5 more students sustained injuries, two of them are listed in serious condition. It took firefighters three hours to extinguish the fire. The cause of the fire is undetermined. Globally in recently years, there have been other tragic dormitory fires in Turkey, Nigeria, Myanmar and elsewhere, where young students boarding at schools were killed in overnight fires.
According to CBS News, an 11-year old girl tried to alert her classmates about the fire but students thought it was a prank and returned to sleeping. Many of the survivors, working with a teacher who stays overnight in the girls dorm, tied sheets together so that they could climb down the side of the building to safety.
A November 2015 NFPA report on fires in U.S. dormitories, fraternities, sororities and barracks indicate that fires were most common during the evening hours, between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m., and on weekends. Between 2009-2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 3,870 structure fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and barracks which caused an annual average of one civilian death, 32 civilian fire injuries and $14 million in direct property damage. It is likely that most of the dormitory fires in the U.S. occurred in college or university dorms. For additional information on dormitory fire safety in the U.S., refer to the code provisions for dormitories covered in Chapter 28 (New Hotels and Dormitories) and Chapter 29 (Existing Hotels and Dormitories) of NFPA 101, the Life Safety Code.