GUJRAT, May 25: Fourteen schoolchildren and a teacher were burnt alive when their van caught fire, apparently due to a spark in a petrol container, near Kot Fatehdin on Saturday.
Eight children were injured in the blaze. According to AFP, 16 children perished.
Eleven of the dead were nephews and nieces of teacher Sameya Noreen who lost her life trying to rescue the children, aged between four and 10.
Police registered a case on the complaint of Riaz Warraich, a police official who lost two daughters and a son. Ms Sameya was Riaz Warraich’s sister.
The van was going from Rageki village to a school in Mungowal, a small town 25km from Gujrat. The fire erupted when the vehicle was hardly three kilometres from the Jinnah Public School.
Gujrat’s District Coordination Officer told Dawn the administration had handed over 14 bodies to the heirs.
Asif Bilal Lodhi said the injured children had been taken to the burns unit of the Combined Military Hospital, Kharian. One of them was discharged after first aid while two others were in critical condition.
The van driver managed to escape soon after the fire erupted.
Ambulances of Edhi, Rescue 1122 and Al Khidmat Foundation took the bodies and the injured to the Aziz Bhatti Shaheed Hospital.
The dead children were identified as Abdullah Riaz, Zara Riaz, Kanwal Riaz, Ahmed Raza, Taimoor, Salman, Rehan, Saqlain, Hasnat, Aftab, Hamdan, Hubaria, Ishtiaq and Hassan.
Dar Ali Khattak, the district police officer, said the van driver had been arrested. The driver, Irfan, told media that the fire erupted after he switched from CNG to petrol.
Asif Lodhi, the DCO, said initial inquiry showed that the blaze was apparently caused by a spark in electric wires of the vehicle.
The fire then spread swiftly because there was a petrol bottle in the van and it was connected to the engine’s fuel line. The CNG kit and cylinder remained intact.
Mr Lodhi said Daud Aftab, a student who survived the fire, recalled that the driver had got the bottle filled with petrol from a fuel station on way to school.
He said the van was owned by the school administration, it did not have any route permit and its fitness certificate had expired recently.
The DCO said the district emergency officer had been asked to investigate the incident and submit a report within 48 hours.
After the tragedy, the district administration ordered 4,000 private schools to submit fitness certificates of their vehicles in two days. Mr Lodhi said the Punjab government had announced a compensation of Rs500,000 each for the heirs of the deceased and Rs100,000 each to the injured.
Funeral prayers of the victims were offered in the evening.