Fire in Taipei hospice kills 9, injures 30

Hospital staff and rescuers evacuating affected patients after a fire broke out in Taipei Hospital, on Aug 13, 2018.
Hospital staff and rescuers evacuating affected patients after a fire broke out in Taipei Hospital, on Aug 13, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TAIPEI (AFP, REUTERS) - Nine people were killed and 30 injured in a blaze that broke out early Monday (Aug 13) at a hospice for the terminally ill near Taipei, fire officials said.

All of the 44 people inside, including 33 patients, were evacuated after the fire started at the hospice on the seventh floor of a nine-storey government hospital in New Taipei city. The injured were rushed to several nearby hospitals, with 11 listed as in serious condition.

The fire broke out at 4.36 am and was put out at 5.37am, after 76 vehicles and 208 firemen were despatched to the scene.

Sixteen had cardiac arrests and seven were revived.  

The other nine died with the cause of death given as smoke inhalation, according to the local fire department.

An investigation has been launched into the cause of the blaze.

New Taipei fire department official Hung Liang-chien told reporters an initial probe showed that the fire was likely caused by the short circuit of an electrical device.

“We are clarifying whether it’s the power cable of the hospital’s electric bed or an air cushion bed brought in by relatives” of a patient, he said.

One caregiver working in the hospice reported seeing a spark on the bed where the fire started, according to local media.

New Taipei fire department chief Huang Te-ching said the cause of the fire was still being investigated and denied reports that the sprinkler system had malfunctioned.

“The sprinkler device was on but there’s some distance between its location and where the fire started so the fire couldn’t be immediately put out,” he told reporters.

CCTV footage on local media showed staff rushing through the hospice corridors, carrying patients out in their arms or in wheelchairs to evacuate them after the fire broke out.

Local media quoted some patients’ relatives saying they heard a blast and suspected that an oxygen tank might have exploded, causing the fire.

Premier William Lai apologised to the public and gave his condolences over the tragedy.

“We will review the cause of the incident to prevent a similar situation from happening again,” he said.

President Tsai Ing-wen, on a stop-off in the United States on Monday on her way to visit two of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies, Belize and Paraguay, expressed grief for the dead and hopes for the injured, the government said.

There have been nine hospital fires in Taiwan in the past decade claiming 37 lives. The worst was in 2012 when a cancer patient set a fire in a nursing facility in southern Tainan city that killed 13 people and injured 60 others.

The arsonist was sentenced to death.

Fire inspectors viewing the damage after a fire broke out in Taipei Hospital, on Aug 13, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE