LAHORE, June 7: Seven newborn babies died and nine others were injured, five of them critically, when a fire broke out in the nursery section of the Services Hospital on Thursday.

About 26 underweight and premature babies were under treatment in the unit when it was engulfed in flames.

The lives of injured babies were said to be at risk because there was only one nursery unit in the hospital and that had been badly damaged.

Instead of taking the injured to the infants’ sections in other hospitals, the administration shifted them to the emergency department where there was no arrangement for neonatal care.

The attendants and parents of the affected babies were kept in dark about the situation by the hospital administration for about half an hour.

Moving scenes were witnessed when mothers of the babies admitted to the obstetrics units were informed about the fire.

Talking to reporters at the hospital, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said a committee had been formed to investigate the matter. His adviser on health, Khwaja Salman Rafique confirmed that seven babies had died and nine others seriously injured.

Witnesses said the fire which was apparently caused by an electrical short circuit spread rapidly and engulfed the entire unit, damaging equipment, gadgets, incubators and furniture. Oxygen leak from damaged pipes intensified the fire.

Sources said at least seven babies who had been kept in the five incubators survived burn injuries and smoke, but they fell unconscious when the rescuers and attendants were shifting them to the emergency department.

According to Services Hospital Principal Prof (Dr) Faisal Massod, there were 26 underweight and premature babies in the unit.

A source said the hospital administration had ignored the complaints of a staff nurse about frequent sparking caused by short-circuit in the air-conditioner in the unit.

Witnesses said as soon as the fire broke out the staff on duty, including nurses and doctors, ran away leaving behind the 26 helpless babies in fire and dense smoke.

Ehsan, a Dharampura resident, who had gone to the hospital to inquire after the health of his nephew admitted to the ICU, told Dawn he rushed to the nursery unit shortly after the fire and saw smoke emitting from there.

He said he broke windowpanes and found seven babies burnt completely on beds.

“I found a baby lying burnt on the floor after the fire damaged his bed,” Ehsan said, adding that he wrapped five babies, three of them completely burnt, in a cloth and rushed them out of the ward.

Security guards and other employees of the hospital who had gathered outside the unit later shifted the injured babies to the emergency ward.

The other infants were shifted by Rescue 1122 personnel who reached there about 15 minutes after the fire had broken out. The fire-fighting squad put out the blaze after one and a half hours.