The city's Fire and Rescue Department received information about the blaze at 5:41 a.m. and managed to extinguish the fire within an hour, said Kuala Lumpur police chief Amar Singh. Firefighters remained powerless and failed to help, while the students' screams were heard in the background: "I saw their small hands through the windows", a witness said.
It is learnt that numerous victims suffocated as they were trapped inside the room. It is one of the worst disasters in the recent times.
The tahfiz school that caught fire and caused 23 deaths this morning was due to move to a new location at the end of the month, said its principal. "They're still counting the bodies, which were piled on top of each other in a corner", Singh said.
Fire officials said they suspected the blaze was caused by an electrical short circuit, or a mosquito repelling device.
In Islamic tahfiz schools - where children study the Quran - students often live in the schools.
He said 23 students and two adult wardens were killed - either trapped by the fire or dying from smoke inhalation.
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Videos posted on social media showed that the three-storey building of the religious school was engulfed in raging fire before the firefighters' arrival.
The fire broke out near the only door to the boys' dormitory, trapping the victims, fire department senior official Abu Obaidat Mohamad Saithalimat said. "All the bodies were found lumped on one another".
He said the victims who were students were all boys aged between 13 and 17.
They are unregulated by the education ministry, being the responsibility of the religious department.
In October a year ago six people died in a fire that swept through the intensive care unit of a major hospital in the southern state of Johor. The officials must take safety measures to avoid fire accidents.