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VA Hospital Fire Forces 320 to Evacuate, Patient Dies of Heart Attack

April 10, 1987

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Sparks from a workman’s torch triggered a blaze that caused $750,000 in damage and forced the evacuation of 320 patients from a Veterans Administration hospital, officials said today. One patient died after suffering a heart attack.

One other patient suffered a heart attack, one a stroke and another a minor leg injury during the evacuation Thursday, and all three were in stable condition, said Dr. Sam Threefoot, hospital chief of staff.

″I do know there was enough smoke in that building - and I’m talking about toxic smoke now - to kill everybody in it,″ Fire Chief William McCrossen said.

Hospital Director Gregory Haag said today that workers were doing renovation work on the sixth floor when some sparks from a torch fell through a wall cavity and touched off a fire in an area where some sophisticated computer equipment was stored.

A worker tried to put it out with an extinguisher, but ″it got away from him before he could get it under control,″ Haag said. He said $500,000 worth of computer equipment was ruined, and damages to the building, including cleanup costs, would run another $250,000.

Haag said 320 patients were evacuated from the 10-story building as the fire sent smoke billowing through fifth- and sixth-floor halls just before 9 p.m. Most of the patients were back in the hospital today, he said.

The evacuees, most of them elderly and many in beds or wheelchairs, were taken to a new addition. Some received intravenous medicines and other treatment in hallways.

The dead man, a cancer patient in his mid 50s, died soon after being transferred to nearby Hotel Dieu hospital, officials said. His name was being withheld until relatives were notified.

About 60 firefighters brought the blaze under control in about an hour, McCrossen said. The hospital sustained extensive water damage, but much less fire damage, officials said.

″It was pretty thick and they had to shut the fifth double doors because the smoke was moving in just like a fog,″ said hospital patient Preston Trahan, 66.

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