thailand fire
thailand fireReuters

At least 17 girls lost their lives after a fire broke out at night in their school dormitory in northern Thailand, a police commander told Bangkok Post, adding that several others were either missing or injured.

The fire broke out on late Sunday night when most girls were asleep, the daily reported.

Police Colonel Prayad Singsin, Commander of Wiang Pa Pao district in Chiang Rai, told AFP that "the fire broke out at 11 p.m. on Sunday (local time, 1600 GMT). Seventeen girls were killed and two are still missing, with five injured." He also added that two of the injured were in critical condition and that the cause of the fire was still being investigated.

The Guardian quoted the province's Deputy, Gover Arkom Sukapan, as saying: "There were 38 students inside the dormitory when the fire broke out. Some were not yet asleep so they escaped... But others were asleep and could not escape, resulting in the large number of casualties."

The school belongs to a local foundation and is not government-run. It is home to girls aged three to 13 years, the daily reported.

Another police official was quoted by the BBC as saying that the Pithakkiart Witthaya school dorm is home to children from the region's impoverished hill tribes.

Photographs on the school's Facebook page showed firefighters trying to douse the flames as they struggled to enter the wooden building, according to the Bangkok Post report.

The BBC quoted the Nation newspaper as saying that the bodies of the victims had been sent to a local hospital for identification, while a search continues for the two missing girls.