Hours after an electrical fire killed 41 people in a Coptic Christian church in the Egyptian capital of Cairo on Sunday, eyewitness testimonies emerged that accused the ambulances of reaching the site late. The fire took place during the Sunday mass on August 15.

The Abu Sifin church was full of worshippers when the electrical fire started in the Imbaba neighbourhood in the West of the Nile river. According to eyewitness accounts, many people rushed inside the burning church attempting rescue but were soon overcome by the heat and smoke.

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An eyewitness told AFP that the emergency services were late in response. She alleged that ambulances and fire engines reached the spot an hour after the fire began in the church. The eyewitness also revealed that the fire station is only minutes away from the Coptic church.

“If the ambulances had come on time, they could have rescued people,” the eyewitness told AFP.

Apart from the eyewitness, relatives of the victims also accused the emergency services of being slow in their response. “They came after people died. … They came after the church burned down,” a woman, who was standing outside the burning church said.

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However, the Egyptian Health Minister Khaled Abdel-Ghafar quashed the allegations of the emergency services being late to respond to the Coptic church fire on Sunday. According to the minister, the first ambulance arrived at the scene only two minutes after the fire was reported.

As many as 15 fire engines were dispatched to the church fire on Sunday to douse the fire, authorities said. Later, a statement by the public prosecutor’s office hinted that asphyxiation was the cause of the death of the victims as no visible burns were found on their bodies.

The Cairo church fire killed 41 people, the majority of whom were children, who were killed by a subsequent stampede, Reuters reported.