Police chief vows 'thorough' dorm fire probe

Police chief vows 'thorough' dorm fire probe

The national police chief has ordered police investigating the Sunday inferno that killed 17 children and injured five others in a school dormitory in Chiang Rai to work harder to win back public trust by being thorough with their investigation.

Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda issued the order through his deputy, Chalermkiat Sriworakhan, and Songtham Alapach, deputy commissioner of Provincial Police Region 5, deputy police spokesman Pol Col Krisana Phatthanacharoen said Thursday.

Pol Maj Gen Songtham said police had not yet reached a conclusion about the cause of the fire that broke out about 11pm on Sunday in the dormitory of Pitakkiat Wittaya School in Chiang Rai’s Wiang Pa Pao district.

The investigation must be carried out thoroughly to ensure justice as people may face charges for gross negligence in connection with the fire, the deputy commissioner said.

On Thursday, Pol Maj Gen Songtham led a team of forensic officials, electrical engineers and other experts to examine the fire scene and collect more evidence before discussing the matter with the main investigation team.

The team found remnants of four fluorescent light fixtures among the charred ruins on the ground floor of the dormitory. They believe the fire erupted on the ground floor, said Pol Maj Gen San Sukkhawat, head of the regional police forensic science centre.

Only the metal structure of the fixtures remained after the fire. That points to the possibility that a pair of lamp holders, which consisted of a plastic component, might have come loose as a result of accumulated heat, sparking a fire which fell on a stack of clothing underneath it, Pol Maj Gen San said.

Some experts on the team noted accidents caused by the sparking of loose fluorescent lamp holders were not uncommon, he said.

Pol Maj Gen San said the team found burnt fluorescent light fixtures on the first floor of the building as well. However, a closer inspection confirmed they had not malfunctioned but were burnt from below, further reinforcing the theory the flames came from the ground floor.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha assigned Deputy Education Minister Surachet Chaiwong to visit the injured victims of Sunday’s fire at a local hospital where they were being treated.

The premier had instructed the ministry to look upon the Chaing Rai tragedy “as a lesson” to devise more effective measures to raise safety standards in state-owned and privately-run school dormitories, Lt Gen Surachet said.

The Chiang Rai hill tribe development centre under the Social Development and Human Security Ministry, meanwhile, insisted the hill tribe students killed in the inferno held Thai nationality and their families have the right to full compensation.

Following the tragedy, a bank account was opened to receive donations from the public to help the families of the fire victims. At least 3.3 million baht has been transferred to the account.

Education Minister Gen Dapong Ratanasuwan ordered the Office of the Basic Education Commission to publish a manual outlining safety procedures on disaster preparedness and responses for teachers and students nationwide.

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