Patients leapt from the windows of a four-story hospital in northeastern China to escape a fire that killed at least 39 people, the government said Friday. Thousands of local residents watched helplessly as patients jumped from windows on the third and fourth floors after rescuers tried but failed to reach them, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The fire broke out Thursday at the largest hospital in Liaoyuan, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) southwest of Changchun, the capital of Jilin province, witnesses said.
An initial investigation showed the fire started in a power distribution room, Xinhua said. The remains of 24 people were found at the scene and 15 others died after being transferred to other hospitals, Xinhua said. Rescuers on Friday were still searching for other victims, it said.
Some 183 patients, 20 of them in critical condition, were moved to seven other hospitals in Liaoyuan, it said. It wasn't clear whether their injuries were caused by the fire or attempts to escape. Ten hospital staff were among the injured, Xinhua said.
The agency quoted 43-year-old patient Wang Mingwen as saying that he saved himself and his wife by tying a quilt to a heating pipe and throwing the other end out the window to climb down from the third floor.
However, his wife Ni Shuping lost her grip and fell from the second floor, seriously injuring herself, Wang said.
China's Central Television news showed about a dozen fire trucks and ambulances in front of the hospital as the last of the fire was extinguished Thursday night. Water used to put out the flames had turned into icy patches on the concrete in the subfreezing weather. Also on Thursday, China's Ministry of Public Security reported that from January to November there had been 222,000 accidental fires in China, resulting in more than 2,000 deaths, Xinhua said, reports the AP. I.L.