A fire at a temporary coronavirus hospital in North Macedonia has left at least 14 people dead, the country’s health minister said, the latest in a series of blazes at hospitals around the world where people with Covid-19 were being treated.
All of the 14 were patients, and 12 others being treated at the center were injured in the fire, on Wednesday evening, the country’s health minister, Venko Filipce, said. No health workers were reported injured, but the cause of the fire has not been determined in what Mr. Filipce described as a “terrible accident.”
The fire was at a temporary hospital in Tetovo, in the country’s northwest, and began at around 9 p.m. It was extinguished within 45 minutes, but that was long enough for the flames to spread quickly through the building, one fire official told a local news outlet.
Footage from the scene showed a plume of black smoke rising as flames engulfed the hospital. Videos aired on local news stations showed fire trucks at the scene and wheelchairs scattered around the charred shell of the structure, a one-story modular building.
“We watched them burn alive and there was nothing we could do,” one young woman, who had been visiting her father at the facility when the fire broke out, told the local news outlet A1ON. He managed to make it to safety, but the two men sharing his room were killed, she said.
“Everything happened in a second,” she said. “We heard something explode, someone called out ‘fire’ and here began the whole drama that I do not wish on anyone.”
Several similarly deadly fires have occurred before at hospitals and clinics for coronavirus patients, and some have been traced to sparks igniting oxygen tanks being used in treatment.
In July, at least 39 people were killed at a hospital in southern Iraq after an oxygen tank explosion in a ward where Covid-19 patients were being treated. In April, a fire caused by another oxygen tank explosion at a coronavirus hospital in Baghdad killed at least 82.
Earlier this year, a blaze tore through a Covid-19 ward in India as the country was grappling with a wave of coronavirus cases nationwide, killing at least 18 people.
The fire in Tetovo was driven in part by explosions, according to Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who immediately opened an investigation. The prime minister’s office said the cause of the fire had yet to be determined, and announced three days of national mourning.
Sasho Trajcevski, the deputy commander of the Tetovo fire department, told the local television station 360 that the plastic elements in the modular building had fed the flames.
In a statement posted on social media, Mr. Zaev called the fire a “great tragedy” and offered his condolences to the families of the dead.
“The fire has been extinguished, but many lives have also been extinguished,” he said, adding that emergency workers had done their best to save people.
He pledged that the authorities would determine the cause of the fire, noting that investigators were already at the scene. “This is a truly tragic event and I can assure you that the entire state leadership is committed to rapidly resolving this situation,” he said.
International investigators will also take part in assessing the causes of the fire. After an emergency government meeting on Thursday, Mr. Zaev said that the government had accepted an offer from NATO allies to send experts to the country.
North Macedonia, where just 27 percent of about two million residents have been fully vaccinated, has seen a wave of coronavirus infections since August. The country had put in place 19 temporary hospitals to deal with the influx of patients during the pandemic.
Since achieving independence 30 years ago, North Macedonia has worked to develop its national health system, but experts say that major challenges remain. In a 2018 report, the World Health Organization said that its health system suffered from underfunding, a lack of adequate equipment and a shortage of health care workers.
Alisa Dogramadzieva contributed reporting.