Thirteen schoolchildren died in a dormitory fire in central China’s Henan province, the official Xinhua news agency reported Saturday.
The blaze at the Yingcai School in Henan’s Yanshanpu village was reported to the local fire department at 11:00 pm (1500 GMT) Friday night, Xinhua said.
Thirteen students were confirmed dead and one injured.
A teacher at the school told state-run Hebei Daily that all the victims were from the same third-grade class of nine and 10-year-olds.
On Saturday evening AFP journalists saw the area around the school cordoned off, with more than a dozen police officers patrolling the scene.
The owner of a supermarket told AFP she was asleep when the blaze took hold, but had heard about the tragedy.
“The kids at the school are definitely mostly living around this area,” she said of the nearby boarding school.
“Our kids don’t go there so we’re not sure about the details,” she added.
Other shopkeepers in the area said they too had gone to bed by the time the deadly fire hit the dormitory.
AFP reporters were blocked from the immediate scene of the inferno, but China National Radio said that some windows of the dormitory building had been smashed.
Quiet and foggy
Yanshanpu village was quiet and foggy on Saturday night, AFP journalists saw, with just a handful of shops, some unlit buildings and hardly anybody walking on the streets.
There was a heavy security presence, with police cars lining a long stretch of the main street and a handful of onlookers standing behind the cordon tape.
One woman told AFP that some of the pupils’ parents had left their children in the boarding school while they worked outside the area.
Xinhua reported the flames had been extinguished by 11:40 pm on Friday night.
The injured survivor “is currently receiving treatment at the hospital and is in stable condition”, according to the country’s official news agency.
Local authorities are investigating the fire’s cause, and at least one person linked to the school has been detained, Xinhua said.
Yanshanpu village lies on the outskirts of Nanyang, a city of nearly 10 million.
Little information about the boarding school is publicly available, though social media videos published earlier showed young children including kindergarteners wearing smocks with the school’s logo as well as older children learning calligraphy.
Chinese social media users on Saturday expressed outrage about the fire and called for any safety lapses to be punished.
“It’s too scary, 13 children from 13 families, all gone in an instant… if there is no severe punishment their souls will not rest in peace,” one commenter on the Weibo social media site wrote.
Fires and other deadly accidents are common in China due to lax safety standards and poor enforcement.
In November, 26 people died and dozens were sent to hospital after a fire at a coal company office in northern China’s Shanxi province.
In July, 11 people died after the roof of a school gym collapsed in the country’s northeast.
The month before, an explosion at a barbecue restaurant in northwestern China left 31 dead and prompted official pledges of a nationwide campaign to promote workplace safety.
In April, a hospital fire in Beijing killed 29 people and forced desperate survivors to jump out of windows to escape.
After the coal company fire in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for the country to “conduct in-depth investigations of hidden risks in key industries, improve emergency plans and prevention measures”.