KUALA LUMPUR: The blaze which killed at least 24 people at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Tahfiz school this morning is the worst tragedy to strike the Bukit Keramat community.
Halim Sudin, 52, a neighbouring resident of the school, said that the last fire to have taken place in the district destroyed a squatter settlement 25 years ago, but no lives were lost.
"This is the most severe case so far, in terms of lives.
"The previous fire that happened about 25 years ago was big, but no one died in that fire," he said.
According to Halim, who is a businessman, the land on which the tahfiz school is built was donated by a resident, who gifted it to the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department, in the hopes that a tahfiz school would be built.
"Talks to build the school began about eight years ago, but due to lack of funds, the building of the school was only realised much later," he said.
Halim added that the school faced no major problem in the three years since it began operations.
"This is quite shocking. We have never heard of any incident like this in the past.
"(The fire) could have been caused by a short circuit, we don't know. They are children, they may not know how to take precautions with regards to electrical items. Anything could've happened," he said.
Halim said neighbours tried their best to help rescue the victims while waiting for the Fire Department's arrival, but to no avail, as the fire had spread to the first floor stairway (where classes are usually conducted).
"The fire was too big by the time we got to the stairway. It was the only way in to where the students were.
"We couldn't do anything but try to catch those who jumped from the second floor.
"Some of those who jumped from the second floor had caught fire.
"They made the decision to jump as they saw no other way out of the second floor and fire had engulfed the ceiling by then.
"Those who jumped landed on the roof of the first floor," he said.
Halim and his family, who have lived in the area since 1965, said ever since the school was built, they have enjoyed the presence of the children playing outside in the evenings.
"It is very saddening to know that their lives have been taken away today," he added.