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Huge school fire kills 18 including children as victims scream for their lives

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At least 18 are reported dead after a fire at a specialist martial arts school in China in the early hours of this morning.

Most of the dead are believed to be children aged between seven and 16.

Four others were severely injured and 12 suffered minor injuries as the blaze swept through the Zhenxing Martial Arts School in Henan province.

“All the children screamed and we tried to help by pouring water on the fire but it didn’t stop. It eventually got so fierce there was simply no way for adults to get close,” an eyewitness told Beijing Youth Daily .

34 children were at the school when the fire broke out at around 3am local time. One parent told the Reuters news agency that "all information is being blocked”.

The father of one nine-year-old boy at the school added: “At Zhenxing, the kids would study and practice martial arts in the day and live there every night. I don't know what caused the fire”.

School owner Chen Lin has been arrested, according to a statement from the local government’s official WeChat channel.

The school is described as a "comprehensive martial arts training institution" that aimed to "strengthen the body through morality and martial arts".

Local communist party chief Lou Yangsheng told local media that the blaze was a "profound lesson”.

On Chinese social media site Weibo, news of the fire spread rapidly, with a related hashtag quickly collecting over a million views with hundreds of users calling for improved fire safety standards.

Deadly fires are common in China, with safety regulations poorly enforced and casualties commonplace.

A massive fire that destroyed a 28-storey Shanghai residential block in 2010 killed 58 people and over 20 died in two blazes in Beijing in 2017.

The disaster comes at a particularly difficult time for China's ruling Communist Party as it prepares its 100th anniversary celebrations on July 1.

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