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12 are arrested after a Beijing hospital fire killed 29 people

Fire investigators inspect the scene of a deadly fire at the Changfeng Hospital in the Fengtai District on Wednesday in Beijing. At least 29 people died in the fire on Tuesday afternoon, and 12 people have been detained for questioning. The cause of the blaze was unknown at the time the photo was taken.
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Fire investigators inspect the scene of a deadly fire at the Changfeng Hospital in the Fengtai District on Wednesday in Beijing. At least 29 people died in the fire on Tuesday afternoon, and 12 people have been detained for questioning. The cause of the blaze was unknown at the time the photo was taken.

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A dozen people have been detained after a hospital fire in Beijing killed 29 people, Chinese authorities said on Wednesday.

The fire broke out at around 1 p.m. on Tuesday local time at Beijing's Changfeng Hospital. Multiple videos of the fire on social media show smoke billowing out of the white, multistory hospital. Desperate people trapped in the building climbed out of the hospital's windows into air conditioning units and lowered themselves down on bedsheets.

Authorities said that 26 people who died in the fire were patients. The other three were a nurse, a medical assistant and a family member of a patient. At least 71 patients have been rescued, according to Chinese media.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated, according to officials in Beijing. But they said they believe it originated from welding sparks from construction in the hospital's inpatient wing.

Authorities detained 12 people, including the hospital's head, her deputy and construction workers.

Large-scale building fires are rare in the Chinese capital. In 2017, a deadly fire in an apartment building in the city's southern suburb of Daxing claimed 19 lives. In 2002, another fire at an internet cafe in Beijing killed 25 people.

Some people in China raised questions on social media about why they only were informed about the hospital fire hours after it had been extinguished.

"Where is our right to know?" asked one social media user, after the first media reports were published late Monday night.

"Do we still have media outlets in China? Do we still have investigative journalists?" questioned another.

In November, an apartment fire in Urumqi, the capital city of China's western Xinjiang region, killed 10 people and sparked rare protests across the country. Many protesters blamed the government's stringent COVID-19 controls for the tragedy.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emily Feng
Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.