Authorities said at least 10 people have been confirmed dead following a massive fire at a hospital in North Macedonia. The hospital had been used primarily to treat COVID-19 patients.

According to initial reports, the fire broke out late Wednesday. It reportedly took firefighters close to an hour to extinguish the flame. Some nearby residents and witnesses were able to capture footage of the blaze, which they then posted on social media.

Footage of the blaze, which occurred in the city of Tetovo, showed large plumes of thick black smoke coming from the hospital and into the air near the city's main road.

Health Minister Venko Filipce said he expects there to be more casualties as search and rescue efforts are still underway. He said that patients and survivors of the fire have been urgently transported to another hospital in the capital city of Skopje. Felipce described the incident as a "very sad day" for everyone in North Macedonia.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev declined to speculate on the cause of the fire but he said initial reports had indicated that it may have been caused by an explosion. Local reports said the fire may have been triggered by the explosion of oxygen cylinders being used to treat patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms. Zaev said that an investigation into the cause of the fire is now underway.


"A huge tragedy has occurred in the Tetovo COVID-19 center. An explosion caused a fire. The fire was extinguished but many lives were lost," Zaev said.

The now burned-down facility was constructed just last year to house patients from Tetovo who had become seriously ill because of COVID-19. The city has a population of about 50,000 people.

The landlocked country in Southeast Europe is slowly recovering from its third wave of the coronavirus. Since the pandemic started, the country has reported about 182,000 COVID-19 cases and 6,153 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The country, officially known as the Republic of North Macedonia, gained its independence in 1991 as one of the states of Yugoslavia. The country has a population of roughly two million people.