N. Macedonia: 12 patients among 14 dead in COVID unit blaze

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SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Forensic experts have identified the 14 victims of a fire in a COVID-19 field hospital in North Macedonia as 12 patients and two visiting relatives, authorities said Friday.

The fire broke out late Wednesday in the western town of Tetovo, destroying the facility within a few minutes. Twelve people were also injured. The blaze is believed to have started by accident, although an investigation is still under way. Witnesses and officials have said an explosion preceded the fire.

The public prosecutor’s office said the dead were eight women and six men who ranged in age between 29 and 78.Forensic experts investigate the site at a burned out makeshift hospital after a fire in North Macedonia's northwestern city of Tetovo, early Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. The blaze occurred late Wednesday at the makeshift hospital for COVID-19 patients. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)© Provided by Associated Press Forensic experts investigate the site at a burned out makeshift hospital after a fire in North Macedonia’s northwestern city of Tetovo, early Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. The blaze occurred late Wednesday at the makeshift hospital for COVID-19 patients. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

The head of Tetovo’s COVID-19 center, Gzim Nuredini, said the fire spread very quickly.

“It all lasted three to five minutes,” Nuredini said, adding that medical staff and patients’ relatives who were outside all tried to help extinguish the flames.

Prosecutors from Tetovo and the capital, Skopje, were gathering video material from inside and around the hospital, and have hired an electrical engineering expert to help determine how the blaze broke out.

Medical staff and witnesses have also been questioned, and prosecutors have ordered the confiscation of all documentation on the construction of the facility to check for potential omissions.Police officers secure the site of a burned out makeshift hospital following a fire in North Macedonia's northwestern city of Tetovo, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. North Macedonia’s government has declared three days of mourning after a deadly overnight fire in a COVID-19 field hospital left more than 10 people dead and many injured. The blaze broke out late Wednesday where a hospital had been set up following a recent spike in infections in the region that left local hospitals full. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)© Provided by Associated Press Police officers secure the site of a burned out makeshift hospital following a fire in North Macedonia’s northwestern city of Tetovo, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. North Macedonia’s government has declared three days of mourning after a deadly overnight fire in a COVID-19 field hospital left more than 10 people dead and many injured. The blaze broke out late Wednesday where a hospital had been set up following a recent spike in infections in the region that left local hospitals full. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

Fires in COVID-19 hospitals or wards have cost dozens of lives in other countries, including Iraq and Romania.

Nineteen field hospitals, funded by a World Bank loan, have been set up across North Macedonia over the past year to tackle surging coronavirus hospitalizations and a shortage of hospital beds. Health Minister Venko Filipce has said all 19 were constructed according to the specifications and standards laid out by the World Bank as a condition for the loan.A police officer secures the site of a burned out makeshift hospital following a fire in North Macedonia's northwestern city of Tetovo, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. North Macedonia’s government has declared three days of mourning after a deadly overnight fire in a COVID-19 field hospital left more than 10 people dead and many injured. The blaze broke out late Wednesday where a hospital had been set up following a recent spike in infections in the region that left local hospitals full. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)© Provided by Associated Press A police officer secures the site of a burned out makeshift hospital following a fire in North Macedonia’s northwestern city of Tetovo, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. North Macedonia’s government has declared three days of mourning after a deadly overnight fire in a COVID-19 field hospital left more than 10 people dead and many injured. The blaze broke out late Wednesday where a hospital had been set up following a recent spike in infections in the region that left local hospitals full. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

North Macedonia has said it is accepting an offer from other NATO allies to send fire experts. The government announced that a team from Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office will join the investigation.

President Stevo Pendarovski has said the investigation would be completed within five days, and that indications are the fire was not set deliberately.

North Macedonia’s government has declared three days of mourning from Thursday.Police officers gather at the site of a destroyed field hospital following a fire in North Macedonia's northwestern city of Tetovo, early Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. The government of North Macedonia will hold an emergency meeting Thursday over a fire overnight that ripped through a field hospital set up to treat COVID-19 patients, leaving numerous people dead. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)© Provided by Associated Press Police officers gather at the site of a destroyed field hospital following a fire in North Macedonia’s northwestern city of Tetovo, early Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. The government of North Macedonia will hold an emergency meeting Thursday over a fire overnight that ripped through a field hospital set up to treat COVID-19 patients, leaving numerous people dead. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu) AdChoices

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