Students to Bed Down Again at School Where 17 Girls Just Burnt to Death

Forty-one students returned to Pitakkiet Witthaya School in Chiang Rai on Monday one week after 17 of their classmates died there in a fire.

CHIANG RAI — A week after a tragic fire killed at least 17 of its young students, the Pitakkiat Witthaya School reopened today without any apparent safety inspection and after raising millions of baht in donations.

Since closing May 22, the school has collected 14 million baht it says will be given Friday to those affected. Chiang Rai Gov. Boonsong Techamaneesathit, who was not present Monday for the reopening, will make an appearance Friday to personally hand over the donated money before the assembled press corps.

Wiang Pa Pao District Chief Prasert Jitpleecheep said the school was not required to ask authorities for permission to reopen. The dormitory building itself does not need to comply with the 1979 Building Control Act as it predated the law.

“The fire took place at the dormitory, not the school building,” he said. “So the school can open again.”

Prasert said the school building is regulated by the Ministry of Education, while the dormitory is registered with the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. Though as the local authority, his office also has a role in advising the school about its building.

Of 142 students enrolled in the school before the fire, 41 students returned to class Monday in Chiang Rai’s Wiang Pa Pao district. Parents of 22 students have withdrawn their children from the school. Dozens of other of students not killed in the fire did not show up today without providing excuses for their absence.

Thirty-eight girls were sleeping in the school’s dormitory when a fire broke out at about 11pm on May 22. The school’s director Rewat Wasana said Friday there were no smoke detectors inside, and surviving children said no alarm was raised.

Rewat said Monday some students would sleep at the school tonight.

“They will sleep in a temporary building,” he said. Asked if the school sought permission to reopen, he said he could not talk and hung up the phone.

Eight days after the fire, police remain tight-lipped about its cause.

Though investigators have questioned more than 50 witnesses, a police spokesman said the cause still cannot be determined.

“It is likely that we will be able to identify the cause [of the fire] this week,” Royal Thai Police Deputy Spokesman Kritsana Pattanacharoen said Monday morning. “Then it can lead to filing charges.”

Kritsana said during a press conference in Bangkok that the 17 bodies would be transferred back to families according to DNA results matching them with their parents.

“We are still waiting for the results of the forensic examinations in order to identify the causes of death and the investigation report from the scene,” he said

Local police Monday were unable to provide a time frame for the investigation.

“There is no progress of the case at the moment,” said police Col. Prayad Singsin on Monday morning. “We are trying to accelerate the process.”

Pitakkiat Witthaya School is under the care of a Christian charity called Panthakit Suksan Foundation, which is headed by Rewat’s wife, Pim Wassana. The school opened in 2008 in an effort to provide education primarily for children from impoverished hill tribe families.

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