Beijing hospital fire death toll rises to 29

By LUDOVIC EHRET, Agence France-Presse

BEIJING — Chinese authorities said on Wednesday they had detained a dozen people over a hospital fire in Beijing that left at least 29 dead and forced desperate survivors to jump out of windows to escape.

The blaze, which broke out on Tuesday afternoon at the Changfeng Hospital in China's capital, killed mostly patients, and left scores of other people injured.

Dramatic footage posted to social media showed people clinging to ropes and jumping from the building, while others perched on external air conditioning units in a desperate bid to shelter from the flames.

The Fengtai district's deputy mayor expressed his "deep condolences" over the deaths of the 16 women and 13 men killed in the inferno, the deadliest in Beijing in over two decades.

"We feel deep remorse and guilt," Li Zongrong told journalists as he announced the toll at a press conference on Wednesday.

"I hereby express our deep condolences for the victims, and express our sincere respects to the victims' families, the injured and their relatives, and apologize to the people of the whole city," he said.

Twelve people, including the hospital's director, have been detained in connection with the fire, said Sun Haitao from Beijing's public security bureau, adding that representatives from a company renovating the facility were among those being held.

A preliminary probe revealed the blaze had been caused by "sparks generated during the internal renovation and construction of the inpatient department of the hospital", according to Zhao Yang from the city fire brigade.

The sparks "ignited the volatile elements of the flammable paint on the site," Zhao said.

39 hospitalized

State broadcaster CCTV reported that out of the dead, 26 were patients at the hospital, two were hospital staff, and one was a patient's family member.

State-run People's Daily reported that as of Wednesday morning 39 people were being treated in hospital with injuries, and another three had been discharged.


Top city officials visited the hospital shortly after the fire, which broke out at around 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday and was extinguished half an hour later.

Beijing party secretary Yin Li vowed to "quickly identify the cause of the accident and hold the relevant responsible persons accountable", according to the Beijing Daily.

AFP journalists on Wednesday saw dozens of people outside the entrance to the hospital, where a large number of police officers were stationed.

Some of the hospital's windows appeared blackened and at least one was broken.

The facade of one of the hospital buildings was completely blackened by soot.

AFP journalists saw people who appeared to be investigators taking photos from inside the blackened building, with the interior visibly damaged by the flames.

Many family members lost contact with patients in the aftermath of the disaster, the China Youth Daily said in a separate report on Wednesday, adding that many of them were elderly people with mobility problems.

A police officer on the scene on Wednesday told AFP the city "will probably make the appropriate arrangements" to take care of victims' relatives.

The hospital is located in the capital's western urban area, about 25 minutes by car from Tiananmen Square.

Deadly fires are common in China due to weak safety standards and lax enforcement.

Tuesday's tragedy was the deadliest in the Chinese capital since a June 2002 fire at an internet cafe killed 25 students.

Ten people died in an apartment block blaze in northwestern Xinjiang in November, sparking protests against COVID-19 lockdowns blamed for hindering rescue efforts.

And 38 people were killed in a fire at a factory in central China, also in November, with authorities blaming workers for illegal welding. — AFP