Late Wednesday night, the blaze broke out in Tetovo in western Turkey. The unit was established following an increase in infections that had left many local hospitals overcrowded.
According to the main prosecutor's office, Skopje in the capital, 14 people were killed. They were all believed to have been COVID-19 patients. However, it wasn't clear if there were any relatives.
The prosecution's office directed forensic experts to identify the remains. This process was expected to take longer due to COVID-19 protocols. A total of twelve people were hurt, but the exact number wasn't available immediately.
Idriz Brahimi, a local resident, said that it was a tragedy that she couldn't even understand. "Those were people who couldn’t get out. It's a terrible catastrophe.
Following an emergency meeting, the government ordered that the national flags be reduced to half-staff for three consecutive days. All sports and cultural celebrations were to be cancelled up until Saturday.
Although the cause of the fire that raged through the wooden paneled structure was not immediately known, it was thought to be an accident possibly connected to the facility’s oxygen supply.
During a visit to Tetovo, President Stevo Pendarovski stated that the investigation would be complete in five days and that the cause was not deliberate arson.
The investigation is being conducted by five prosecutors from Tetovo, Skopje and other regions. In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev stated that the fire started after an explosion at the spot. The explosion was believed to have been caused by oxygen supplies.
Nexhmedin Haliti, a local resident, said that they witnessed the explosion and saw everything in flames. "The fire lasted 15-20 minutes, and firefighters arrived to put it out. All was extinguished."
In other countries, fires at COVID-19 hospitals and wards have claimed dozens of lives.
A fire that broke out in July in a COVID-19 unit at a Nasiriyah hospital killed 92 people. It is believed that the fire was either started by an oxygen cylinder explosion or a short circuit. At least 82 people, many of whom were COVID-19 patients and their families, died in April when an oxygen tank exploded. The disaster caused the resignation of Iraq's health minister.
Two hospital fires that killed two people in Romania raised concern about the country’s overworked healthcare system and its ageing population.
In a fire at the Piatra Neamt, a COVID-19 patient's intensive care unit in northern Romania, 10 people died last November. In January, another fire engulfed a Bucharest Matei Bals hospital ward, killing five. Both wards were equipped with supplemental oxygen.
The hospital's lawyer stated that if a nurse hadn't stopped oxygen supply, "we would have experienced an explosion" in the aftermath of the Matei Bals Fire.
The government issued a statement after Thursday's emergency cabinet meeting in North Macedonia. It stated that it accepted the offer from NATO allies to send fire specialists to assist with the investigation. The statement didn't specify which countries would be affected.
North Macedonia's population of approximately 2 million people is less than 30% fully vaccinated. This has led to a significant increase in coronavirus deaths and infections since August.