At least seventeen girls aged five to 12 died in a fire in northern Thailand Sunday night.

The fire began at approximately 11:00 p.m. at the girls dormitory of Pitak Kiatwithaya School in Tambon Weng, Wiang Pa Pao district of Chiang Rai province. The school is a private institution for the children of rural hill tribes in the area.

Fire fighters fought the fire for three hours.

In addition to the seventeen dead, one girl is missing and two are in serious condition. Five girls were rescued.

Preliminary reports of the investigation have it that the doors of the dormitory were locked from the outside, a security measure to prevent theft and keep people from going out after hours. The practice is common in Thailand.

However, according to the testimony of one of the schoolgirls who escaped, she had warned the girls in some rooms after she had got up to go to the bathroom and discovered the fire. The girls didn’t believe her and closed the door on her. Together with other girls and the teacher who sleeps in the dorm with them, she tied cloth together to make a rope and climbed out the window.

The school will be closed for five days.

17 Schoolgirls Die in Northern Thailand Fire (1)

Wiang Pa Pao region