Fire at Coptic church in Cairo killed 41, injured 14, officials said

Cairo, Egypt — A fire pierced a church in the Egyptian capital Cairo on Sunday, sending up huge amounts of thick black smoke into the air as the congregation prayed, killing at least 41 people and injuring 14, the Coptic Church said.

The cause of the fire in the Abu Sefein Church in the working-class district of Imbaba was initially unknown. According to the police, initial investigations indicated an electrical short circuit.

The country’s health minister blamed the deaths on smoke and a stampede as people tried to flee the fire. It was one of the worst fire tragedies in Egypt in recent years.

Footage circulating online showed burnt furniture, including wooden tables and chairs. Firefighters were seen putting out the fire while others carried victims to ambulances.

The Coptic Church cited health authorities when reporting the number of victims. The fire broke out during a church service, it said.

Fifteen fire engines were dispatched to the scene to douse the blaze while ambulances took the injured to nearby hospitals, officials said.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi spoke to Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II by phone to express his condolences, the president’s office said.

“I am following the developments of the tragic accident closely,” wrote el-Sissi on Facebook. “I have instructed all government agencies and institutions concerned to take all necessary measures and to deal with this accident and its effects without delay.”

Health Minister Khaled Abdel-Ghafar said in a statement that two of the injured were discharged from a hospital while 12 others were still being treated.

The Home Office said it received a report of the fire at 9 a.m. local time and found the fire started in an air conditioning unit on the second floor of the building.

The ministry, which oversees police and firefighters, blamed an electrical short circuit for the fire, which produced huge amounts of smoke.

The country’s chief prosecutor, Hamada el-Sawy, ordered an investigation and a team of prosecutors was dispatched to the church.

Egypt’s Christians, who make up about 10% of the country’s more than 103 million people, have long complained of discrimination by the country’s Muslim majority.

Sunday’s fire was one of the worst fire tragedies in recent years in Egypt, where safety standards and fire safety regulations are poorly enforced. In March last year, at least 20 people died and 24 others were injured in a fire at a textile factory near Cairo.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Fire at Coptic church in Cairo killed 41, injured 14, officials said

Dais Johnston

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