At least 12 people, almost all of them schoolchildren, have been killed after a fire broke out in a girls’ dormitory in Turkey’s southern province of Adana, according to the local governor.
The fire, which officials said was likely caused by an electrical fault, spread rapidly through the building’s wooden interior late on Tuesday, as panicked victims tried to jump from windows to safety.
Officials expressed concern that many of the dead were killed after they were unable to open a closed fire door to escape the top floors of the building.
Images showed scenes of devastation, as emergency services arrived to tackle the fire at the dormitory building, parts of which were turned into a blazing wreck as the roof collapsed.
“We lost 12 of our citizens in the fire. Eleven of them were schoolchildren and one was a tutor. 22 citizens are injured,” Adana region governor Mahmut Demirtas told Turkish NTV television.
“We have reached all people inside. According to initial reports, we guess that the fire broke out due to the electrical contact,” he said.
He also said some of the injured students were affected by smoke and others were wounded while trying to escape the burning building.
Turkey’s private Dogan News Agency said that all 11 of the schoolchildren killed were girls. Their identities have yet to be disclosed but they were said to be 14-years-old or under.
The disaster took place in the town of Aladag, north of Adana city, one of the biggest urban centres in the south of Turkey.
Television footage showed the three-storey building in flames, with fire engine teams trying to put out the blaze.
The governor said the fire at the private schoolchildren dorm broke out at around 7:25pm local time (16:25 GMT) and it was brought under control some three hours later.
Locked fire door
Demirtas declined to comment on claims that fire escape stairs were locked and students were unable to use them.
But Adana city mayor, Huseyin Sozlu said: “It appears that the fire escape stairs door was locked. Children could not open it. Bodies were found there.”
He told NTV “of course children would have survived”, if they had been able to flee down the fire escape stairs.
“From tomorrow, the governor’s office will start an investigation.”
Students trapped on the second and third storeys of the building who could not get outside, were killed in the fire, the Dogan News Agency said.
The fire spread quickly because of the building’s wooden interior and carpeted floor, officials said.
Aladag district’s mayor Mustafa Alpgedik, quoted by the Dogan News Agency, said the fire erupted on the ground floor and then the flames spread because the third floor was wooden.
With the burning of the wooden floor, the roof then entirely collapsed, he said.
In an agonising wait, families who could not see their children stood outside in tears, he added.
The dorm had a capacity for 54 students and was open to both secondary and high school students. Demirtas said it was a private dormitory with 34 students in residence.
The governor previously announced 28 students were staying at the secondary school dormitory when the fire erupted.
Fires are frequent in Turkey due to antiquated and often wooden buildings and faulty electrics. But a disaster of this magnitude is highly unusual.
Underlining the seriousness of the incident, several ministers were heading to the region, including interior minister, Suleyman Soylu and education minister, Ismet Yilmaz.
Demirtas informed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who expressed his sadness over the catastrophe, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim was also briefed by Demirtas and ministers.