Patients rappel down hospital wall using bedsheets as hospital fire kills 29 in Beijing

An investigator inspects burnt out area following a fire at a hospital in Beijing (AP)
An investigator inspects burnt out area following a fire at a hospital in Beijing (AP)

A deadly fire at a hospital in Beijing killed at least 29 people, with 26 of the victims being patients.

The fire broke out in a wing of Beijing’s Changfeng Hospital that housed critically ill patients, according to a city government official who spoke at a news briefing on Wednesday.

The incident, which occurred at about 12.50pm on Tuesday, prompted China to order an investigation into the cause of the fire.

12 people have been detained so far, including the director of the hospital and representatives from a company renovating the hospital, Sun Haitao from Beijing’s public security bureau told a press conference on Wednesday.

Dramatic videos on social media showed people escaping the smoke and flames by using tied bedsheets to climb down the walls.

Though 71 people were rescued during the evacuation, the death toll has risen since the fire was first reported. State-run media reported that 21 people had died by 6pm on Tuesday. This number, however, climbed to 29 a day later.

The fire was extinguished in around half an hour, according to local reports, but questions have been raised about why the news was not reported earlier.

Many social media posts about the incident were deleted by Chinese censors, with people criticising a delay in announcing the news.

“Rescue work at the scene concluded in 3.5 hours, but the public only knew that 21 had died from the fire when it’s already past 8 in the evening,” one person wrote on WeChat in a post that was later deleted.

“It is very puzzling that little information was known about a fire killing 21 people in a densely populated major city like Beijing before the official notification,” the comment said.

Despite the tragic incident, Changfeng Hospital had boasted about its fire preparedness in a February article on its official WeChat account, leading to criticism from some members of the public.

Access to the hospital has been blocked, as broken and burned out windows could be seen along with heavy police presence, according to local media reports.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation and there is no information available at this time regarding the extent of the injuries suffered by survivors.

Additional reporting by agencies