Chine school fire
Police stand outside a school where 13 people died in a fire in Yanshanpu, in China’s central Henan province on January 21, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

Yanshanpu, China: Authorities in central China's Henan Province were on Sunday looking into the cause of a night-time fire that killed 13 schoolchildren as they slept in a dormitory.

The inferno, which took place at the Yingcai School in Yanshanpu village, was reported to the local fire department at 11:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Friday and was put out around 40 minutes later, official news agency Xinhua said.

Thirteen students died in the accident, while one other person suffered injuries.

Dozens of police were in and around a cordoned-off area near the school on Sunday morning, AFP journalists saw.

An official at the scene told AFP: "There is an investigation ongoing inside. Nobody can go in."

Several windows on the side of the school were broken - the only obvious signs of a major accident at the building.

Vertical metal bars covered the school's windows, AFP saw, while a permanent sign on the building's facade read: "Enter the kindergarten happily and go home happily."

A teacher at the school told state-run Hebei Daily that all the victims were from the same third-grade class of nine and 10-year-olds.

On Sunday morning, a row of shops next to the school stood mostly shuttered, while a small clinic in a crumbling courtyard building appeared unattended.

A few locals went about their day and a couple of children played as police cars made loops around the cordoned-off area.

Some people passing by Sunday morning stared at the scene, and one man at an auto workshop across the street told AFP that he had been unaware of the fire until the following morning.

Authorities in the area are investigating the fire's cause, and at least one person linked to the school has been detained, Xinhua reported Saturday.

No official explanation of the precise cause of the deadly blaze has yet been provided, although some domestic media reports suggested it was related to an electric heating device.

Yanshanpu village lies on the outskirts of Nanyang, a city of nearly 10 million people about 850 kilometres west of Shanghai.

Little information about the boarding school is publicly available, though social media videos published earlier showed young children including kindergarteners wearing smocks with the school's logo as well as older children learning calligraphy.