Malfunction of an electric water heater might triggered a fire in a college dorm, which forced four female students to jump to their deaths on Friday, initial investigation showed.
The small heater that could quickly boil water might have ignited combustible materials in the dorm on the sixth floor of Shanghai Business School, according to the municipal public security bureau.
Four female students -- Wang Jiayan and Zhang Yanping, 20-year-old Shanghai natives; Chen Rui, 19, from Sichuan Province;and Liu Wenwen, 20, from Jiangsu Province, jumped in panic to escape the flame at about 6:12 a.m.
The four young ladies died immediately upon hitting the ground.
Students of the neighboring dorm had attempted to hand a metal pole to help them out but finally failed, a witness surnamed Tian recalled.
Another witness said two other roommates of the burning dorm rushed out for help immediately after the fire broke out, but found the door could not be opened again when they returned.
Firemen extinguished the fire in about 20 minutes.
The blaze burned about 20 square meters of the dorm but didn't spread to other rooms.
The specific cause of the fire is under investigation.
If the school authority is convicted of all responsibilities in the tragedy, the families of the victims could get a compensation of up to 470,000 yuan (68,871 U.S. dollars) each, Liu Chunquan, a lawyer of the Shanghai office of Beijing-based G&P law firm, was quoted as saying by www.xinmin.cn.
The school could ask for compensation from the door manufacturer if quality problems are confirmed as a vital cause of the accident, Liu added.
However, the amount of compensation may be reduced if investigation rules the four students should also share partial responsibilities, he said.
The school, located on West Zhongshan Road in downtown Shanghai, has more than 10,000 students.