PUTRAJAYA - The Fire and Rescue Department has ascertained arson as the cause of the fire at a Islamic residential religious school in Kuala Lumpur that claimed the lives of 21 students and two teachers last Thursday.

Its Director-General, Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim, said today the incendiary fire started at the door of the hostel on the third level of the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah School, based on the testimony of witnesses and rescued occupants and supported by the effects of the fire at the entrance, such as spalling on the wall near the door, and mass loss on the door, ceiling, cupboards and shoe rack.

The clean burns on the wall around the door of the hostel reinforced the evidence of where the fire started at the door, he said.

"The fire is believed to have been started with the torching of petrol that was poured on the towel rack, shoe rack and wall in front of the door to the hostel on the third level," he said at a press conference here.

Twenty-three people, 21 of them students and two teachers who also served as wardens, were burnt to death in the fire.

Wan Mohd Nor said the fire then spread to the ceiling and razed the door to the third level.

"The presence of LPG (petroleum liquefied gas) released from two gas cylinders caused the flames to spread quickly to the entire hostel.

"Furthermore, the massive fire load in the hostel also caused increased heat, causing the sleeping victims to meet a fiery end in such a short time," he said.

Wan Mohd Nor said the department's investigation team also found solid evidence, namely the two gas cylinders, green in colour with red stripes, at the front door of the hostel.

"Both cyclinders were empty and the valves were opened," he said.

Wan Mohd Nor said the (accelerant detection) Canine Unit detected seven locations and seven samples had been taken in front of the door to the hostel.

He said four dogs had been deployed (one after another) for the process and all of them led the team to the same locations.

"The samples were analysed by the chemist at the Kuala Lumpur Fire investigation Laboratory and four of the samples were found to have contained combustible liquid residue of petrol," he said, adding that the full report of the fire had been submitted to the police yesterday.

Meanwhile, Wan Mohd Nor refuted the allegation that a spanner was used to hold the door closed.

He said the department had a hint that the fire at the tahfiz school was caused by arson as early as 1 pm on the day of the fire after the samples were found to have contained combustible liquid residue.

"We have informed the police about it and they began their investigation soon after," he said.

Wan Mohd Nor said a total of 43 members and 17 officers of the department were involved in the fire and rescue operation at the school on that fateful Thursday morning.

He said the fire was completely put out at 6.29 am.

"Five in a family living in the warden's room were rescued using the ladder from the fire engine.

"When the team reached the hostel, they did not hear any scream for help from the students. When they finally managed to enter the hostel, they found the charred victims," he said.

In total, he said they managed to rescue 23 occupants, while three others were not in the premises when the mishap occurred.

Wan Mohd Nor said the fire at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah school was the second worst in the history of tahfiz school fire.

In 1989, the worst fire occurred at Sekolah Agama Taufiqiah Khairiah Al-Halimah, Padang Lumat, Kedah, which claimed the lives of 27 students. - Bernama

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