At least 82 killed in massive Baghdad hospital fire in Iraq
On the night of 24 to 25 April 2021, a fire at the Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital in Baghdad, Iraq, left at least 82 people dead and 110 others injured. The fire was started by the explosion of oxygen tanks designated for COVID-19 patients. A lack of fire detection and suppression systems contributed to the spread of the fire and many died as a result of being taken off their ventilators to escape the fire. Major General Khadhim Bohan, head of Iraq's Civil Defence, stated that the hospital had neither smoke detectors, nor a sprinkler system, nor fire hoses and that flammable material used in the dropped ceiling of the ICU contributed to the speed at which the fire spread.
The accident occurred in the hospital's intensive care unit (ICU) that caused an oxygen tank to explode. Medical sources reported that the accident was caused by "a fault in the storage of oxygen cylinders". A doctor reported that the staff had tried to shut down the hospital's central oxygen system but the oxygen tanks had already started exploding. The explosions set off a fire in the ICU that spread quickly to multiple floors during the night.
At the time of the fire, it was believed that at least 120 patients were in the hospital, a doctor at the hospital disclosed.
The ICU, reserved for the most severe cases of the coronavirus, had about 30 patients and dozens of their relatives were visiting at the time. One witness, who was visiting his brother in the hospital, stated that he saw people jumping out of windows and doctors landing on cars to escape the fire.
Iraq's Civil Defence stated that the fire was under control by the early morning hours of 25 April 2021.
At least 82 people died as a result of the fire. The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights reported that 28 of the fatalities were coronavirus patients being treated in wards at the ICU who had to be taken off their ventilators to escape the fire when it had reached their ward. Others had died of smoke inhalation. According to the pharmaceutical association of Iraq, at least one pharmacist was amongst the fatalities. At least 110 other people were injured. A reporter for Al Jazeera stated that the number of fatalities was likely to rise because many of those injured had suffered severe burns.
With a health system already strained by poor infrastructure and the coronavirus pandemic, the fire, which was attributed to negligence often associated with widespread government corruption, sparked anger amongst the public and led to calls for accountability, including demands for the firing of Hassan al-Timini, the Minister of Health. The governor of Baghdad, Mohammed Jaber, called for the Health Ministry to establish a commission to bring those responsible to justice. Although several patients were relocated to other hospitals, many families decided to wait outside the hospital after the fire was extinguished, in an attempt to search for their loved ones.
On 25 April 2021, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi held an emergency meeting where he ascribed the fire to negligence and ordered authorities to report the results of an investigation "within 24 hours". Al Jazeera reported that the announcement of the investigation did not stop the wrath of those on social media, as Iraqis repeatedly hear of the government declaring investigations but rarely see anyone actually being held accountable for their actions or lack thereof.
Al-Kadhimi also ordered the detention of the head of the hospital and the head of its department of engineering and maintenance, as well as the detention and questioning of the health director for the area of Baghdad where the hospital was located. He also suspended the Baghdad governor as well as Health Minister Hassan al-Timini and planned to question them as well. Kadhimi instructed that the investigation be concluded within a period of five days, as well as the submission of a report to the Council of Ministers.
Sources: Aljazeera, BBC