BangkokAt least 17 girls aged between five and 12 were killed and several reported missing in a fire that swept through the dormitory of a private school for children of hill tribes in northern Thailand, police said on Monday.

Five school girls were reported injured in the fire which broke out at the two-storey building of Pithakkiart Witthaya School in Chiang Rai province late Sunday night.

The girls who died in the fire were aged between five and 12 years old.

There were 38 schoolgirls staying at the boarding-house, most of whom were asleep when the fire broke and were unable to escape the blaze.

They came from hilltribe villages in Chiang Rai and chiang Mai to study in the town.

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

News Channel 3 reported that most of the victims were burned beyond recognition. Rescuers picked through the debris late last night and into the morning.

Scientific Crime Detection Division officials were dispatched to investigate the cause of the fire.

The victims’ bodies were sent to a hospital for identification.

Thailand, which is home to hill tribes who mainly live in the remote northern area bordering Laos and Myanmar, has poor health and safety standards and accidents are common across the country.