September 5, 2005

Theater fire kills 29 in Egypt

BENI SUEF, Egypt (Reuters) - A candle fell over and set
fire to a crowded theater in the Egyptian town of Beni Suef on
Monday night, killing at least 29 people and injuring 38,
officials and survivors said on Tuesday.

The candle, a prop in the play Hamlet at an experimental
theater festival in the town, set fire to carpeting and spread
rapidly to the rest of the building, they said. Beni Suef is in
the Nile valley, 100 km (60 miles) south of Cairo.

Adel Hassan, the producer, said about 100 people were
watching the Shakespeare play in a small auditorium with only
one exit.

"All the people rushed to the exit and struggled to get
out. But the fire spread very rapidly and many of them just
couldn't get out in time," he told reporters.

Hassan was speaking in Beni Suef Hospital, where he was
receiving treatment for burns to his face and arms.

The one-storey theater, attached to the town's state-run
cultural center, was burned to the ground within an hour of the
outbreak of the fire at about 10.30 p.m. (1930 GMT).

Two fire trucks were dousing the blackened remains with
water in the early hours of Tuesday.

The head of the local public prosecution office, Mohamed
Safwat, told reporters that he had ordered an immediate

The state news agency MENA said 70 people had escaped
unhurt from inside the building. Earlier reports said the
candle had first set fire to curtains and the wooden stage.

Magdy Wissa, one of the actors, said the theatrical troupe
from Port Said in northeastern Egypt was taking part in a
Festival of Theater Clubs which opened on Saturday.

The candles were props brought on toward the end of the
second act, added Wissa, who was also injured.

Health Minister Mohamed Awad Tag Eddin is expected in the
town early on Tuesday to visit the injured, officials said.

The injured included 14 members of the troupe and some of
the injured people had 80 percent burns, MENA said.

Fire regulations in public buildings, and other safety
regulations in general, are laxly enforced in Egypt.

A fire on a crowded train killed at least 350 people near
Cairo in 2002.

Earlier on Monday, a bus drove into an irrigation canal
near Minya, a town south of Beni Suef. Officials said seven
people were killed and 20 were missing believed drowned.

(EGYPT-FIRE, Writing by Jonathan Wright, Cairo bureau:
+20-2-578-3290/1, editing by Fredrik Dahl))