29 killed in Egyptian theatre fire

A fire sparked in Egyptian theatre during a play tore through an on Monday, killing 29 people before they could escape, police say.

The play, part of a drama festival, was in full swing when the candles set fire to curtains and the wooden stage.

The audience scrambled to escape the building in Beni Suef, 100km (60 miles) from the Egyptian capital Cairo.

Some of those killed died in the stampede to get out, the official told the Associated Press.

Others were killed either by the flames, or by suffocation.

"Everyone was trying to save themselves and they were falling all over each other," Mohammed Arafat Yassin, 27, recovering at Beni Suef hospital, told AP.

According to Reuters, Adel Hassan, the producer, said about 100 people were watching the Shakespeare play in a small auditorium with only one exit.

"All the people rushed to the exit and struggled to get out. But the fire spread very rapidly and many of them just couldn't get out in time," he told reporters.

Hassan was speaking in Beni Suef Hospital, where he was receiving treatment for burns to his face and arms.

The one-storey theatre, attached to the town's state-run cultural centre, was burned to the ground within an hour of the outbreak of the fire at about 10.30 p.m. (1930 GMT).

Two fire trucks were dousing the blackened remains with water in the early hours of Tuesday.

The head of the local public prosecution office, Mohamed Safwat, told reporters that he had ordered an immediate investigation.

The state news agency MENA said 70 people had escaped unhurt from inside the building. Earlier reports said the candle had first set fire to curtains and the wooden stage.

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