Image: School fire in Budo, Uganda
Walter Astrada  /  AFP - Getty Images
Two members of the Ugandan Red Cross look through burned remains of pupils' belongings following a suspicious fire which killed 21 at a school dormitory in Budo, Uganda.
updated 4/15/2008 9:06:00 AM ET 2008-04-15T13:06:00

An overnight fire at a primary school dormitory in Uganda which killed 19 schoolgirls and two adults may have been set deliberately, police said Tuesday.

"Preliminary investigations indicate that it was homicide," Police Inspector General Kale Kaihura told reporters at the scene.

He said interviews with teachers and survivors led him to believe the fire was started deliberately.

Sobbing parents sifted through the ashes of the girls dormitory at the Buddo primary school Tuesday, trying in vain to identify their daughters in the charred piles of bones and skulls.

"Help me, oh God please help me," wailed Jacqueline Bakoba as she lifted up part of the collapsed roof looking for her missing daughter, Betty.

Intense heat
By the time the fire brigade reached the school, most of the dormitory had burned down and part of the roof and inner walls had collapsed. The fire burned away almost all the mattresses and children's clothing and the intense heat warped the metal bed frames.

Teacher Frederick Bugmbe said there were 58 girls in the dormitory, but some managed to escape through narrow windows.

Hundreds of parents arrived at the school, which has around 1,000 students, to search for their children. The school is about seven miles from the capital, Kampala.

Police said it appeared 19 students and two adults died in the blaze but they were still searching the site for remains.

Candles banned
Lydia Namusisi, 14, who sleeps in a dormitory next door, said she was woken up by a loud bang. When the girls tumbled out of bed, they found the dormitory already blazing.

School worker James Kiiza said the doors had been locked from the outside. He said there was no electricity at the time of the fire, but that the school does not permit the use of candles.

Sylvia Nakatte said she received a phone call to tell her that her 12-year-old daughter, Mary, had died.

"I rushed to the school but her body cannot be identified," she said, weeping and clawing at the sodden ashes.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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