At least 17 girls died as they slept after a fire swept through a private school dormitory in northern Thailand, a police commander said, adding several others were either missing or injured.

"The fire broke out at 11pm on Sunday (local time). Seventeen girls were killed and two are still missing, with five injured" police Colonel Prayad Singsin, Commander of Vingpatao district in Chiang Rai told AFP.

The boarding-house of Pithakkiart Witthaya School in Wiengpapao distirct is home to girls aged from 3 to 13 years old, he said.

There were 38 schoolgirls staying at the boarding-house. They came from hilltribe villages in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai to study in the town, according to local media.


After the blaze broke out, officials could only evacuate a few of the girls while the rest were trapped inside.

Photographs on the school's Facebook page showed firefighters struggling to douse the flames as they engulfed the white, two-storey building.

Hill tribes are often beyond the reach of state resources, suffering at school as well as in their health and development.

Poverty means some resort to drug smuggling for narcotics gangs across the remote area, known as the "Golden Triangle" and bordering Laos and Burma.

Thailand has poor health and safety standards and accidents are common across the kingdom.

- AFP, Daily Telegraph