A fire in a clinic in the Lower Saxony town of Uelzen has cost at least four people their lives. The victims were patients, Helios Kliniken Schwerin GmbH announced on Friday. According to police, three of the victims died in the hospital and one person was taken to another hospital and died there. Age and gender were not initially mentioned. The police also spoke of a double-digit number of injuries; according to the clinic, six people were seriously injured and 16 others were slightly and moderately injured. The cause of the fire was initially unclear.

The fire broke out on the third floor of the clinic late Thursday evening and spread to several patient rooms. Ward 3.4 for internal medicine, cardiology, pulmonology and angiology was affected. The Uelzen Clinic is a primary care provider with 303 beds, said a spokesman for the Lower Saxony Ministry of Health.

When rescue workers arrived, flames and heavy smoke were visible and cries for help could be heard, police said. Firefighters and police rescued several patients from their rooms, some using ladders. Around 140 rescue workers were on duty, a spokesman for the fire department said that night. The injured suffered smoke inhalation and burns. The fire was extinguished.

“We are deeply saddened, our condolences and thoughts are with the relatives of the deceased and the injured patients,” said a spokesman for the hospital. Several wards of the clinic cannot be used for the time being. Around 50 patients should therefore be transferred to surrounding hospitals. According to the Ministry of Health, the patients were transferred to clinics in Celle, Gifhorn, Hamburg, Hanover, Lüneburg, Nienburg and Schwerin. The Red Cross announced that emergency services and other emergency services were on duty until late Friday morning to transfer the patients.

The fire in the hospital was a “tragic and shocking event,” said a ministry spokesman. The rescuers’ quick intervention “prevented even worse things from happening.” The highest priority is to ensure patient care. Uelzen’s mayor Jürgen Markwardt said he was “deeply shocked”. The non-party politician emphasized that the hospital’s employees and the rescuers had “done an outstanding job to help people in the most difficult and life-threatening situations.”

The hospital announced that because of the fire, no patients could be admitted to the Helios Klinikum Uelzen until January 12th. Affected patients should be informed and, if possible, alternative appointments discussed. Nobody can currently be treated in the emergency room either. The clinic asked to switch to other hospitals.

Patient advocates called for sprinkler systems in clinics after the fire in Uelzen. Independent extinguishing systems must be legally required in every patient and staff room, said the board of the German Patient Protection Foundation, Eugen Brysch. “Even furniture stores and warehouses in this country have a better fire protection standard than hospitals.”

Fires in clinics have increased significantly, and the fire protection regulations in the approximately 1,900 hospitals in Germany have reached their limits, he emphasized: “After all, most patients cannot save themselves. Sleeping people also cannot smell the smoke from the fire.” According to the Lower Saxony Hospital Association, the clinics adhere to the fire protection requirements set out in the building regulations.

According to initial police estimates, the total damage caused by the fire in the clinic could be more than one million euros. A fire expert should be hired to determine the cause of the fire, a police spokesman said. Investigations are being carried out in all directions.

Note: This article has been updated.