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Blaze deaths inquiry

KENYA. The Kenyan government has ordered a review of boarding school security after 23 girls trapped in a locked dormitory burned to death. Twenty-two others were admitted to hospitals in critical condition.

Education permanent secretary, Wilfred Kimalat said it was likely that all hostels and dormitories would have to be redesigned. "In future it will be mandatory for all those responsible for student welfare to seek professional advice from licensed building inspectors and engineers," he said.

Survivors of the inferno, at Bombolulu Girls secondary school in Kwale district near Mombasa, said the fire started at 10pm on March 26 in the over-crowded dormitory and trapped 145 girls. The dormitory was locked from the outside and the key kept by the matron who panicked and ran away leaving the girls locked in.

The windows were also barricaded by metal grilles and iron bars, a common security practice in girls' schools in Kenya. Eventually, the doors were broken down by the school's guards with the assistance of students from the neighbouring Mazeras Boys School. Headmistress Priscilla Mwasi said the fire brigade from Mombasa some 20 kilometres away arrived at the scene at 1.20am, after the dormitory had been gutted.

To ease the trauma among the surviving students, the government ordered the closure of the school for one year and transferred pupils to other schools.

Congestion in dormitories and hostels is a major problem in Kenya. Bombolulu dormitory was meant to accommodate 100 students, but 145 boarders slept there.

Wachira Kigotho

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