Beijing hospital fire claims 29 lives, caused by electric sparks
Rare incident wake-up call for capital to conduct city-wide safety hazard screening
Published: Apr 19, 2023 09:50 PM
Pictures of Beijing's Changfeng hospital after the deadly fire: on Wednesday, one day after the fire took 21 lives, outpatient service and access to the building was suspended. Photo: Zhang Changyue/GT

Pictures of Beijing's Changfeng hospital after the deadly fire: on Wednesday, one day after the fire took 21 lives, outpatient service and access to the building was suspended. Photo: Zhang Changyue/GT

The death toll has risen to 29 after a fire on Tuesday at Beijing Changfeng Hospital. A preliminary investigation found the cause to be electric sparks caused by modification work, city authorities said at a Wednesday press briefing. The deadly incident prompted the city government to conduct city-wide safety hazard checks.

Among the dead, 26 were patients and one was family member of a patient, in addition to one care worker and one nurse, an official confirmed at the press conference. Most of the dead patients were elderly with an average age of 71.2 years.

A total of 39 people who were injured in the fire are receiving treatment, of whom three are critically injured and 18 are in severe condition.

At the press conference, Zhao Yang, an official from Beijing's fire rescue corps, said that an initial investigation showed that the fire was caused by construction inside the hospital, which generated sparks that ignited combustible materials.

Twelve people, including the head of the hospital and those in charge of the construction, have been detained, Sun Haitao, an official from the criminal investigation corps of Beijing's Public Security Bureau, said at the conference.

The fire department from Fengtai district, where the hospital is located, received a report of the fire at 12:57 pm on Tuesday. The fire was put out at 1:33 pm, and rescue work continued till 3:30 pm.

The hospital suspended outpatient services and denied entry except for hospitalized patients, the Global Times learned after visiting the site on Wednesday.

The east wing of the hospital, where the fire took place, was blocked to the public. Parts of the building wall were black with fire damage. There were still people lining up at the front gate waiting to enter.

A patient from North China's Shanxi Province told the Global Times that the hospital refused to admit him on Wednesday and did not arrange for any other hospital.

The patient said he was informed of the fire while having an electroencephalogram on Tuesday. "We pulled out the plug and ran."

He said the evacuation was conducted in an orderly manner, with a nurse helping several patients evacuate. "We waited until 3 pm and went upstairs when they said it was safe."

The patient recalled that most of the injured were bedridden elderly patients. Some died after being transferred to other hospitals, and several doctors and nurses sustained burns.

During the press conference, Li Zongrong, an official from Fengtai district, said that the government has contacted family members of all the patients, and established 29 work groups to talk to the family members one-on-one, and provide help to them as needed. 

Beijing Life Insurance Co initiated an emergency plan for the incident, including opening a green channel for victims of the incident, and took the initiative to seek clients who may be victims of the fire.

Changfeng shares were suspended from trading on Wednesday.

Some media reported that the firefighting trucks arrived soon after the fire broke out, yet the rescue did not start immediately, because the front entry was too narrow for the trucks to enter. 

A resident who lives nearby showed the Global Times from his residential building rooftop that there was an entrance at the hospital's west wing to let firefighting trucks in but the hospital had torned it down and built a room where the entrance was located.

Beijing's Party secretary Yin Li vowed on Wednesday to conduct city-wide screening of safety hazards to prevent major safety accidents from occurring.

Police already went door to door to check shops near the hospital on Wednesday, and educated shop owners about the importance of fire prevention, the Global Times learned.

Beijing Changfeng Hospital is a private hospital established in 1985, affiliated with Beijing Changfeng Hospital Corp, which is listed on the National Equities Exchange and Quotations, according to Beijing Business Today.  It has multiple branches in different cities.

According to Chinese corporate information platform Tianyancha, Changfeng's Beijing branch alone received 14 penalties from Fengtai district's health bureau since 2019. 

The Chinese Nongovernment Medical Institutions Association issued a notice on Wednesday, saying that the association decided to cancel Beijing Changfeng Hospital's membership.

Hao Deming, an official from the association, told media that his group is drafting a document on safety hazards to enhance private hospitals' awareness. Hao also urged the public not to avoid the whole industry just because of a single incident, saying that "nongovernmental medical institutions are an important part of our medical system."