COVID Hospital Fire Kills 12 Patients, 2 Visitors in Minutes, Prompts Resignations

A fire tore through a COVID-19 field hospital late Wednesday in North Macedonia, killing 12 patients and two visiting relatives, prompting resignations from health officials.

North Macedonia's health minister, Venko Filipce, announced his resignation late Friday, nearly two days after the deadly fire. Filipce's resignation came shortly after his deputy minister and two senior hospital administrators also stepped down.

"This is a very sad day," Filipce wrote on Twitter after the fire, expressing his condolences to families of the victims and calling it a "terrible accident."

The fire broke out at a field hospital that held 26 patients in the western town of Tetovo, destroying the entire facility within minutes. The blaze killed 14 people and injured 12 others.

Gzim Nuredini, head of Tetovo's COVID-19 center, said that medical staff and relatives of virus patients who were outside all tried to help extinguish the fire.

"It all lasted three to five minutes," Nuredini said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Macedonia COVID-19 Hospital Fire
Fourteen people died in a fire that broke out in a COVID-19 field hospital on Wednesday in North Macedonia, prompting resignations from health officials. Police and firefighters inspect the scene at the hospital where the fire broke out, in Tetovo, North Macedonia on September 8. Arbnora Memeti/AFP via Getty Images

There was no immediate reaction from the office of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

The blaze is believed to have started by accident, although an investigation is still underway. Witnesses and officials have said an explosion preceded the fire.

The public prosecutor's office said eight women and six men aged between 29 and 78 were killed.

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 authorities say all 19 were constructed according to the specifications and standards laid out by the World Bank as a condition for the loan.

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.

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.

North Macedonia's government has declared three days of mourning from Thursday.

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

Macedonia Hospital Fire
A fire that tore through a COVID-19 field hospital in North Macedonia killed 14 people, prompting resignations from health officials. Forensic experts investigate the site at a burned out makeshift hospital after a fire in North Macedonia's northwestern city of Tetovo September 9. Visar Kryeziu/AP Photo