At least 17 teenage students were killed when a fire broke out in a tutoring centre in a four-storey commercial building in the city of Surat in India‘s western state of Gujarat, police said.
Television footage broadcast on Friday by local media showed people jumping off the top floor of the Takshashila building or trying to escape by climbing down, as thick smoke billowed out.
Most of the dead were students who had been attending class in the building, according to the spokesman for the office of Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.
The Press Trust of India news agency said the fire engulfed the third and fourth floors of the building, which is located in a shopping district.
Police officer Praveen Chaudhary said more than a dozen students were hospitalised with burns.
“The fire started near the staircase, so they could not get down,” Joint Commissioner of Police Harikrishna Patel said, adding that all of the dead were younger than 20.
The blaze, likely caused due to an electrical short circuit, started between 3:45-4:00pm local time and spread rapidly, Patel added.
Television footage showed people trying to grab hold of a large banner on the side of the building as they plummeted down.
“The students lost their life both because of the fire and jumping out of the building,” Deepak Sapthaley, a fire official, told AFP.
Fire officer Deepak Satkale said 24 fire engines battled the blaze.
Rupani has ordered an inquiry into the incident and asked Mukesh Puri, principal secretary of the urban development department, to submit a report within three days, the spokesman for his office said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter he was thinking of the bereaved families.
“Extremely anguished by the fire tragedy in Surat,” Modi said. “May the injured recover quickly,” he said, adding he had instructed authorities to help those affected.
Building fires are common in India because of poorly enforced safety regulations.