Youths charged with murder after fatal fire at Malaysian school

This file photo shows Malaysian Muslims carrying the coffin of a victim of the Darul Qur’an Ittifaqiyah religious school fire for burial at Raudhatul Sakinah cemetery in Kuala Lumpur on September 16, 2017. (File photo by AFP)
Updated 28 September 2017
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Youths charged with murder after fatal fire at Malaysian school

KUALA LUMPUR: Two Malaysian teenagers were charged with murder on Thursday, for setting fire to an Islamic boarding school that killed 23 people, mostly boys.
The fire in Kuala Lumpur on September 14 was the deadliest of its kind in two decades, and the tragedy sparked public outrage, with calls for greater safety and tougher regulation at religious schools.
The blaze had broken out in a top-floor dormitory at the three-story boarding school where most of the students were sleeping in bunk beds, with many of the windows barred by metal grilles.
The two accused were part of a group of seven youths, all male and aged between 12 and 18, who police said had started the fire after feuding with students from the boarding school. They lived in the neighborhood and did not attend the school.
Prosecutors declined to provide the suspects’ names or ages, citing Malaysia’s child protection laws, but said both the accused boys were minors.
“They are being tried jointly and are facing 23 counts of murder, one for each victim of the fire,” prosecuting lawyer Othman Abdullah told reporters outside a juvenile court in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia carries a mandatory death penalty for murder, but authorities have said it will not apply to the youths as they were underage. They could instead face jail time, whipping, fines or detention at an approved school.
The two, along with four others, are also facing drug use charges. All but one were minors, while another youth was released due to insufficient evidence, Othman said.
Those charged had tested positive for drugs, including marijuana and methamphetamine, according to a charge sheet sighted by Reuters.
The court has set November 28 as the date for the next hearing, Othman said.


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 22 July 2019
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.