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July 26, 2017

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Four dead in fire at Thai tourist nightclub: officials

PHUKET, Thailand -- A fire ripped through a tourist nightclub on the Thai island of Phuket Friday, leaving four people dead and a dozen injured as party-goers fled the pre-dawn inferno, officials said.

Foreigners were among those hurt in the blaze at the Tiger disco on the southern island, a magnet for international tourists, where rescue workers pulled the charred bodies of victims out of the smoldering wreckage.

"There are four confirmed dead. We believe they are foreign tourists but it's not yet confirmed," Phuket Deputy Governor Chamroen Tipayapongtada told AFP by telephone.

The deadly blaze in the popular seaside resort of Patong is yet another blow to Thailand's image as the "Land of Smiles." Safety standards in the kingdom are generally poor and deaths involving tourists are common.

The injured included four French nationals and seven Thais, according to the authorities.

One badly burned 30-year-old Frenchman was in intensive care, along with a 33-year-old Thai staff member who broke her leg when she jumped out of the burning building, according to officials.

"The four dead bodies were burnt beyond recognition. We cannot identify even their gender," a hospital employee said.

A national police team flew to Phuket to try to identify the victims of the blaze, which is believed to have broken out at about 4 a.m. (2100 GMT Thursday) and was extinguished at around dawn.

"Forensic police searched throughout the club and found no more dead so it's unlikely that the death toll will increase from four," said Phuket Deputy Police Commander Colonel Chalit Kaewyarat.

"We decided to send those four bodies to Bangkok for autopsy. Two of them are men but for the other two we don't have a clue," he said.

Police said initial indications suggested a lightning strike or an exploding electrical transformer could have sparked the fire.

"Witnesses said there was a power blackout and it was raining. When the power came back they heard a loud explosion and the fire broke out," said Police Colonel Chirapat Phochanapan in Phuket.

Tomrongsak Boonyarunk, an executive with the Tiger Group which runs the nightclub, told AFP that the venue was officially closed at the time of the fire but about 70-80 people were still inside sheltering from rain.

"What happened is a force majeure. There were up to three lightning strikes and blackouts before the fire broke out."

"We fully comply with the law on fire exits," he added. "We will not duck responsibility. We are sorry. I've sent staff to hospital to look after the injured people."

Concerns about fire safety at Thai nightclubs were highlighted by a massive blaze at a disco in the capital Bangkok in 2009 that left more than 60 people dead, including foreigners, as people celebrated the new year.

In that incident hundreds of party-goers were inside the Santika Club when it was set ablaze by pyrotechnics during a rock band's performance.

Three Singaporeans, one Japanese and a Myanmar national were among the dead, while scores of foreigners including some from Australia, France and Britain were injured.

Last year the owner was convicted of gross negligence and sentenced to three years in prison.

Thailand's tourist friendly image has been tested in recent years by deadly political unrest, devastating floods, a series of minor bomb blasts in the capital and concerns about violent crimes against foreigners.

In June, an Australian woman was stabbed to death during an attempted robbery in Phuket, and two Canadian sisters were found dead in a hotel room on nearby Phi Phi island, showing signs of an extreme toxic reaction.

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