Saudi Health Minister Khalid al-Falih announced early on Friday that at least 24 people were killed and 123 injured in a massive fire at the intensive care unit and the maternity ward of a Saudi hospital in the southern city of Jazan before dawn on Thursday.
The Saudi Arabian Directorate of the Civil Defence said that 25 people died but a later statement by Falih put the death toll at 24.
Major Yahya al Qahtani reported that the fire started at about 2:00 am (2300GMT) local time at Jazan General Hospital in the southwestern port city of Jazan, the capital of the Jizan region, one of Saudi Arabia’s poorest areas.
"Jazan Hospital accident is now over and investigation is underway to find out its reasons," the defence agency said.
According to state television which interviewed a witness, the fire ignited from an electrical short circuit in the underground car park where more than 130 cars were parked and it took only three minutes to sweep through the hospital.
"We could hear the women screaming," said the man, who was not named.
Falih said that he accepted that the ministry had failed but it was too early to find out the causes of the fire and that a committee would investigate them.
"When we have deaths like this number, there is no doubt that there is a failure in the system of the ministry of health, and we would like to ensure that this will not occur again at any other hospital," Falih said.
The defence agency published photographs on Twitter showing heavy smoke and intense blazes which seemed to have severely damaged the interior of the hospital. Rescuers were able to enter the hospital through a window using a ladder.
— الدفاع المدني (@KSA_998) December 23, 2015
— الدفاع المدني (@KSA_998) December 24, 2015
Some Twitter users claimed that the fire was the result of official negligence and criticised a series of accidents at public facilities in the Kingdom this year.
"Does the health minister have the courage to submit his resignation after the fire at Jazan General Hospital? What disaster lies after this calamity?" tweeted one person, whose account identified him as Mohammed Alsubaie, from Riyadh.
State television reported that emergency doors were locked with chains in the hospital after the disaster. According to the reports, the hospital had been previously warned over safety violations.
The region’s Director of Health Affairs Ahmed al-Sahli denied any safety problems saying that many people could easily escape from the fire because the doors were open and safety equipment was in place.
However, the relatives of victims blamed the hospital’s management.
"What happened in this hospital was a crime of murder," Eissa Amaish whose sister was killed in the fire said.
"This hospital was not equipped at all to deal with a fire," he added.
In August, 10 people were killed and 259 injured in a fire at a residential complex rented by Saudi Arabian national petroleum and natural gas company, Saudi Aramco, in the country’s eastern province.
Jazan is located near the Yemeni border in where a $20 billion plan to develop the local economy will be carried out by building an industrial complex that produces and uses oil products for manufacturing.