Deadly Guyana school fire may have been ‘maliciously’ set, three days of mourning declared

May 23, 2023  -Acting Police Commissioner, Clifton Hicken, is assuring the Guyanese public that the outcome of the investigation into Monday’s fire that resulted in the deaths of 19 students will be made public, even as preliminary indications are that the blaze was “maliciously” set.

Hicken said that DNA testing will be conducted expeditiously to identify the 13 bodies that were charred, while post-mortems have been completed on six of the bodies.

“I want to reiterate on behalf of the force, my condolences going out to the families. We will conclude this investigation swiftly,” he said.

Acting Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Dwayne Scotland, said that the fire was lit in the south-western end of the building, which rapidly consumed the premises.

“After we would have completed our initial investigation, the same was handed over to the police force,” Scotland said.

He said the Mahdia Fire Station had received a call soon after midnight on Sunday and it took the firefighters four minutes to arrive at the scene, but by that time the building was completely engulfed in flames.

“Immediately, firefighting and rescue operation initiated. These operations would have rescued not less than 20 students. The operation continued for approximately three and a half hours after which the fire was brought under control and subsequently extinguished,” he noted.

Guyana has declared three days of national mourning over the deaths of the students who perished after the fire swept through a dormitory at the Mahdia Secondary School, which is located 100 miles south-west of Georgetown.

Officials said that an estimated 57 children were housed in the dormitory and that the students were from the mountain villages of Chenapau, Karisparu, Micobie and El Paso.

They said 18 girls and one boy died.

At least 29 children were transported to the Mahdia District Hospital, where five died.

Another child reportedly died on her way to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation.

In a nationwide broadcast, President Irfaan Ali said that the national flag will be flown at half-staff at all public buildings in honour of the children.

“I ask that as a nation we utilise the next three days as three days of prayers for these children, their families and the community,” Ali said, describing the event as one of the “saddest days” in his life.

He said the government is seeking regional and international assistance to conduct DNA tests on several of the bodies to confirm their identities by matching their remains with their surviving relatives.


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