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Fire in Nigeria dorm kills 23 schoolgirls

Barred windows, chained doors trapped students

ABUJA, Nigeria — Fire killed at least 23 students trapped behind chained doors and barred windows in an all-girls high school dormitory in remote northern Nigeria, local officials and news reports said Thursday.

Villagers used a shovel to force open a bathroom window, saving some of the girls, the respected Guardian daily in Lagos said.

The fire broke out late Monday at a 165-bed residence for a government school in Gindiri village, 120 miles north of the capital, Abuja. The fire burned overnight and into the day Tuesday.

A police spokesman, Aliyu Yusuf, confirmed the deaths. There were unconfirmed reports that one of the injured died later at a hospital.

The Guardian quoted an unidentified villager as saying local residents came to try to rescue the girls but were blocked by iron bars on the windows and the locked, chained doors.

The villager said the doors had been chained to keep the girls from sneaking out at night. Buildings in Nigeria customarily are heavily protected against theft, however.

Nigerian state-run radio reported that the fire was started by an overturned kerosene lantern.

Local authorities announced an official investigation and declared Tuesday and Wednesday public holidays "in sympathy with families of the victims."

In southwestern Nigeria, 16 people were burned alive Wednesday when their vehicle somersaulted and caught fire at Ahoda Junction not far from Lagos.

Federal road safety official Emmanuel Omotosho said Thursday the vehicle had been carrying a large open container of gasoline.

Deadly fires are commonplace in Nigeria, often because of careless use of fuel, which is cheap and frequently traded illegally. Several pipeline fires, believed to have been started by vandals who siphon the fuel for sale, have killed hundreds in recent years.