GUJRAT: Seventeen children and a teacher were killed when their school bus caught fire in central Pakistan on Saturday, police said.
Seven other children were injured in the blaze which destroyed the vehicle.
The van was carrying 24 children to a private school in Gujarat, about 112 kilometres (70 miles) north of the eastern city on Lahore, when it caught fire, local police chief Dar Ali Khattak told AFP.
“The fire erupted in the vehicle when the children were only a few kilometres from their school,” he said.
The blaze was apparently caused by a spark when the driver of the dual-fuel van switched from gas to petrol, he said, adding that the fuel gas cylinder was intact.
The children were aged between five and 15 years, he said, adding that a female teacher also died.
The government announced Rs0.5 million as compensation for those killed and Rs75,000 for the injured.
The driver, who fled and left the van in flames, has been arrested in the nearby city of Kharian, police official Abid Khan said.
Initial information said the driver had also kept petrol in a plastic bottle, as reserve fuel for emergency use, which may have contributed in intensifying the fire, he added.
The dead included three children of police constable Mohammad Riaz, and the dead teacher was their aunt, residents said, adding that thousands of people attended their funeral.
“We told the driver there was a very bad smell of gas leakage. But he did not listen and soon after the fire erupted,” a 10-year boy who survived the blaze told Geo News.
Five of the injured children were in serious condition, hospital officials said.
Later, when the driver was presented before the media, he said that he did not own the vehicle, instead he worked on a monthly salary of Rs6,000. Express News quoted the driver as saying that none of the children complained to him about petrol leaking, and that he himself managed to pull two children to safety.
The driver added that the fire started when he converted from CNG fuel intake to petrol fuel intake.
Vehicles mostly run on both petrol and natural gas.