Iran mosque fire kills 59, injures 250
TEHRAN, Iran - A fire raged through a crowded mosque in Tehran during evening prayers Monday after a female worshipper's veil caught the flames of a kerosene heater, killing at least 59 people, and injuring more than 250, Iran's official news agency reported.
Panicked people raced for the doors and smashed windows to escape the blaze, leaving burned shoes and women's black chadors scattered in the mosque yard. The mosque walls were charred, carpets were burned and religious books, including the Quran, were destroyed.
Women, who pray on the second floor of the mosque, separated from the men, had to race down stairs and through a narrow doorway to exit. Many stumbled and were trampled in the frenzied stampede to escape.
Hospital records checked by The Associated Press showed that 40 of those killed and the majority of the injured were women.
The fire started when the veil of a female worshipper caught the flames of a kerosene heater on the upper floor of the mosque. The flames spread to a thick green cloth that covered the ceiling and walls of the mosque in commemoration of the holy month.
Earlier reports had blamed a faulty electrical outlet, but IRNA reported that theory had been discarded. It also said officials had discounted the possibility of a bomb or arson attack.
"Pieces of burning cloth fell on the head of the worshippers, who stopped praying and smashed windows to run out of the mosque in panic," a witness said on condition of anonymity.
The injured, some of them in critical condition, were taken to nearby hospitals. Relatives gathered outside to await news of their loved ones.
"My brother has been seriously injured. What a calamity," said Masoumeh Ebrahimi, wiping her tears with a corner of her chador, a head-to-toe covering.
Firefighters extinguished the fire an hour after it started, state television said.
But Reza Pourbaradaran, who lives nearby, complained that firefighters arrived too late.
"Firefighters arrived one hour after the fire broke and when serious damage had been done," he said.
Workers were seen late in the evening cleaning the debris and wiping away the black smoke marks from the entrance.
The tragedy came on the fourth day of the month of Muharram, a period of mourning for Shiites, when they recall the 7th century death of Hussein, grandson of Islam's prophet Muhammad.
The mosque is close to the historic Golestan Palace where Reza Khan was crowned as Reza Shah Pahlavi in the 1920s and the huge Tehran bazaar, the heart of business in the capital.