BAGHDAD — A fire sparked by an exploding oxygen cylinder killed at least 82 people, most of them Covid-19 patients and their relatives, at a Baghdad hospital late Saturday, a devastating example of the pandemic’s impact on a country riddled with corruption and a legacy of decrepit infrastructure.
The hospital, a facility dedicated to Covid-19 patients in one of Baghdad’s poorer neighborhoods, had no smoke detectors, sprinkler system or fire hoses, said Maj. Gen. Khadhim Bohan, the head of Iraq’s civil defense forces. The fire spread quickly because of flammable material used in false ceilings in the intensive care ward, he added.
“If there had been smoke detectors, the situation would have been totally different,” General Bohan told the state-run Iraqiya TV.
Doctors and rescuers described a chaotic scene at the hospital, crowded with relatives of patients despite what was supposed to be a ban on most visitors to avoid the spread of infection. Because of a lack of nursing staff, Iraqi hospitals, even in Covid wards, require a relative to help look after a patient.
report early this year warned of the dangers of hospital fires because of increased oxygen use. It reported almost 70 people were killed in hospital fires around the world related to supplemental oxygen last year, including 10 in Romania. A more recent fire in April in Romania, where intensive care units have also been overwhelmed, killed three patients.
An Iraqi health ministry spokesman said the Ibn al-Khatib hospital, where the fire broke out, was originally built in the 1950s and had been renovated last year to refit it for treating Covid patients. He declined to comment on why the renovation did not include smoke detectors or a sprinkler system, saying that was now under investigation.
Among the dead were some older patients on ventilators who could not move from their beds when the fire started, officials said.