Fire at Matei Bals Institute: five dead, four patients found charred

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A fire broke out at the ground floor of Matei Bals Institute for Infectious Diseases in Bucharest this morning around 05:00hrs, with at least five victims so far. The hospital is treating Covid 19 patients, and the fire seized the wards where there were about 100 patients with mild to severe Covid forms, who needed oxygen devices to breathe.

Four of the patients died charred, and a fifth victim has died after the CPR procedures had failed. The fifth victim is a 80-year-old woman who had suffered burns on 20 percent of the body. There is no information so far about the other three victims who died charred.

Three patients were initially found out charred in the morning, with a fourth charred body discovered in the bathroom of a ward later on, around 11:00hrs.

Over 100 patients were evacuated, being transferred to other pavilions of the institute and to other hospitals in the Capital.

It is the second tragedy involving a fire in a hospital in Romania within several months, after the fire at the intensive care unit of the Neamt County Hospital in November 2020, where over 10 people died.

President Klaus Iohannis will also go to Matei Bals Institute around 13:00hrs.

Two of the four Covid patients who were transferred to Marius Nasta Hospital (two women and two men) have a bad condition and were admitted to intensive care. The hospital is to receive another 32 patients from Bals.

Investigations are under way, but the first hint is that the a short circuit from a space heater or from a hot plate would have caused the fire.

Authorities have announced two phone numbers where the relatives of those 102 patients transferred from Matei Bals can call for further details: 021.2069398 and 021.2648515.

The former manager of the Matei Bals Institute, Adrian Streinu Cercel, said that the hospital was built in 1953 , but it had been rehabilitated recently, and that it has all permits in place, with the latest oxygen line being installed in December.

A criminal record for manslaughter has been opened by the Prosecutor’s Office upon Bucharest Tribunal.

The head of the Department for Emergency Situations, Raed Arafat said tat the fire had been announced by a call to 112 at 05:03hrs, with the first firefighters squad arriving on the spot at 05:13hrs and with the red plan being triggered at 05:14hrs.

“We won’t speculate on the causes of the fire, the investigators will probe into it. Besides the 4 patients dead, there are no more people who suffered serious problems due to the fire. There are no more patients with burns,” said Arafat.

At first, around 44 people from the Matei Bals were transferred to Universitar Hospital, to the Floreasca, Sfantul Ioan and Sf. Pantelimon hospitals, while the rest were evacuated to the other pavilions of the Bals Institute.

The firefighters’ coordinator said that the there was an open flame at the ground floor of the hospital when they came, on a 100-120sqm area, and 4 wards were affected.

Controversies over the heating. Was it an oxygen tank explosion or short circuit due to space heater?

Bucharest prefect Traian Berbeceanu told Digi 24 that the anti-fire devices of the pavilion where the fire had broken out were functional and worked as they had automatically unplugged the sources of oxygen and electricity, thus avoiding a bigger tragedy. He added that, as far as he knows now, the pavilion had been recently renovated, there were no heating problems and the facilities were compliant with the standards.
Both the Bucharest prefect and the Bucharest general mayor Nicusor Dan said that there had been no heating distribution problems at the Matei Bals lately, while Health minister Vlad Voiculescu mentioned he has no information about additional heating sources in the hospital at that moment, amid rumours that the fire would have started from a space heater or from a hot plate in a ward.
However, the daughter of a patient admitted to Matei Bals contradicted the authorities, saying there were heating issues at the hospital, as a week ago she brought her mother a space heater precisely for it was cold in the ward.
Another patient admitted in another pavilion of the Bals Institute has caught on camera the first moments of the fire this morning, with the man yet claiming that after the fire had broken out an explosion was being hear, which may point to an explosion of one of the oxygen tanks in the ward.
He also said that there had been no hot water and heating problems in the past 18 days since he was hospitalized there.
“It was an explosion with many flames, a strong light like a flash”, the patient said, adding he had hot water and heating in the past 18 days since he had been hospitalized.
The representatives of Termoenergetica, the heating provider in Bucharest, say in their turn there have been no problems with the centralized heating at Matei Bals
Besides, the deputy general manager of the company, Adrian Gîtlan, told Digi24 that the thermal unit that serves both Matei Bals Institute and also Colentina Hospital, as they are in the same area, are under the management of Matei Bals Institute.
“This thermal point doesn’t belong to us, but to the hospital, they are exploiting it. We only check the parameters every night. There were no operational problems last night around 21:30 when our teams checked the parameters, we are providing 50C for the hot water and 43C for the heating. It is a temperature providing optimal conditions. If there had been any problems over night, we would have been announced”, Gîtlan stated.

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