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Arson theory in Kenya school fire

Fire damaged dormitory
Gutted: The dormitory had beds for 96 students  

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- A blaze at a Kenyan school which killed 58 teenage pupils is being treated as arson, police say.

A further 28 pupils were seriously injured in the fire and six -- who have been taken to hospitals in the capital Nairobi -- were described as critical.

Local police chief Julius Narangui said he suspected arson caused the fire although investigations at the scene are continuing.

CNN correspondent Catherine Bond said administrators at the government-run school had smelled petrol on the night of the fire but a search of the sleeping block failed to find the source.

When firefighters broke through the building, they found the bodies of boys -- ages 15 to 19 -- piled in front of the only exit that was open.

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CNN's Catherine Bond has more on the fire at a Kenyan school where at least 58 students died

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They said many of the victims had been crushed in an attempt to flee the building.

Mackenzie Waema, a 19-year-old student, said that student-teacher hostility could be behind the possible arson.

"There was a misunderstanding between the administration and the students. They (the students) had grudges. Some of the students don't have good relations with the teachers. That could have brought this calamity," he said.

Peter Wanyoro, father of one of the injured students, said his son had told him of plans for a student protest against conditions in school.

"I don't know if this is the reason why they were burned. Boys who survived said some of their colleagues went to the dormitory with petrol in small jerrycans," Wanyoro said.

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi visited the scene and said it was a ghastly incident.

A padlock on one of the two doors and iron bars on the windows prevented escape through those routes, officials said.

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The intense heat also caused the iron and wood roof to cave in onto the top bunks in the dormitory.

Two students escaped the flames and fumes by climbing onto the burning roof and jumping to the ground outside.

Police spokesman Peter Kimanthi said 130 boys had been sleeping in the building.

Reporters said there were 48 bunk beds in the building that measures approximately 40 metres by 15 metres (132 feet by 50 feet).

No school officials were available to comment how 96 beds could accommodate 130 boys although it is not known if some of the students were day pupils rather than boarders.

The fire broke out at Kyanguli Secondary School, in Machakos district, at about 1.40 a.m. (2240 GMT) on Monday.

Red Cross officials said 57 bodies had been recovered from the dorm. School officials said one student still missing is presumed dead.

Some of the injured have burns over 50 percent of their bodies, Tabu Simiyu, a doctor at Kenyatta Hospital, said.

The fire came just weeks after 23 schoolgirls were burned alive in a locked hostel in Nigeria.

A similar blaze in 1998 killed more than 20 schoolgirls in a locked dormitory at a school at Bombolulu near the Kenyan Indian Ocean port of Mombassa.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED SITE:
Kenya - CIA Factsheet

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