The blaze broke out before dawn in the two-storey building, Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah, located in the centre of the capital Kuala Lumpur.
Firefighters rushed to the scene and the blaze was out within an hour but not before it wreaked terrible devastation — pictures in local media showed ash-covered, fire-blackened beds.
“It really does not make sense for so many to die in the fire,” Khirudin Drahman, director of Kuala Lumpur’s fire and rescue department told AFP.
“I think it is one of the country’s worst fire disaster in the past 20 years.”
He said that the number confirmed dead was 23 students and two adult wardens, adding that they could have died due to smoke inhalation or got trapped in the fire.
“We are now investigating the cause of the fire,” he said.
Loga Bala Mohan, the government’s federal territories deputy minister, said: “We sympathise with the families. It is one of the worst fires involving so many lives in the capital in recent years.
“We urgently want the authorities to quickly probe the cause of the deadly fire so that we will be able to prevent future disasters.”
A fire department official at the scene said that the blaze broke out in bedrooms before dawn, and firefighters from a nearby station were on the scene within minutes.
The Star newspaper reported that the fire and rescue department had raised concerns about fire safety measures at unregistered and private religious schools — known as tahfiz, and had recorded 211 fires at the institutions since 2015.
In August, 16 people including eight students fled an early morning fire at a family-run tahfiz in Baling, in the northern state of Kedah, the paper reported.
There were 519 tahfiz schools registered across the country as of April, but many more are believed to be unregistered, the paper said.
In October last year, six people died in a fire that swept through the intensive care unit of a major hospital in the southern state of Johor.